Farmers’ unions in Punjab, who have been protesting against the Centre’s new farm laws, on Saturday said that they will allow both goods and passengers trains in the state to resume from Monday.
The decision was announced after Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh’s meeting with the groups. “Happy to share that starting 23rd Nov [November] night, Kisan Unions have decided to end rail blockades for 15 days,” Singh tweeted. “I welcome this step since it will restore normalcy to our economy. I urge Central Govt to resume rail services to Punjab forthwith.”
The groups, however, said that they will impose the blockade again after 15 days, if their concerns are not addressed within that period, NDTV reported.
On November 13, the representatives of farmers’ unions from Punjab had met Union Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar after being invited for talks. They put forth five demands before the ministers, including withdrawal of the three farm laws and revoking punishment for burning agricultural waste.
The groups told Goyal that they had vacated train tracks and accused the Centre of creating economic blockades for Punjab.
Punjab Industries and Commerce Minister Sunder Sham Arora had said on November 9 that industries in the state have suffered losses of around Rs 22,000 crore because of the suspension of goods train services. The disruption of train services had also hit the supply of coal and fertilisers for winter crops.
Train services in Punjab were initially cut off from September 24 when farmers began the “rail roko” agitation against the new farm laws. The agitating farmers had on November 4 had agreed to leave the Railways premises, but said that they would only allow for the movement of goods trains. The Railways, however, wants movement of passenger trains as well with complete security.
The Punjab government has been firmly opposing the Centre’s farm laws. Earlier this month,Amarinder Singh took his protest against the laws to Jantar Mantar in Delhi.
The farm laws
The Parliament had passed three ordinances – Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Ordinance 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Assurance and Farm Service Ordinance 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 – in September. They were signed into laws by President Ram Nath Kovind on September 27.
Protests had erupted against the laws in many parts of the country. When two of the legislations were tabled during a chaotic session in Parliament on September 20, some Opposition MPs claimed that they would prove to be the “death warrant” for the agricultural sector.
Taken together, the three legislations loosen regulations on the sale, pricing and storage of agricultural produce. They allow farmers to sell outside mandis notified by the Agricultural Produce Market Committee. They enable contract farming through deals with private sector companies. They take food items like cereals and pulses off the list of essential commodities, lifting stock limits on such produce.
The government claims the new laws would give farmers the freedom to sell in the open market. But farmers say the laws will weaken the minimum support price mechanism under which the government buys agricultural produce, leave farmers to the mercy of market forces and threaten food security.
Most Opposition parties and farmers’ organisations across the country have strongly opposed the bills. The Shiromani Akali Dal, one of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s oldest allies, pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance in protest against these bills.