The Punjab government on Monday asked Union minister Piyush Goyal to intervene after the Railways decided to extend its suspension of goods train operations in the state, saying protesting farmers are still blocking the tracks.
Goods train services resumed in the state after farmer unions on October 21 announced exempting them from their weeks-old rail roko agitation over the Centre's new farm laws. The Railways began running goods trains on October 22 but decided their suspension for two days on October 23 after some farmers blocked their movement.
On Monday, the suspension was extended up to October 29, provoking a sharp reaction from the Punjab government, opposition parties and farmer bodies. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said the move will further provoke protesting farmers. He spoke to Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, seeking his intervention for immediate restoration of freight movement, according to a statement. The CM also wrote to Goyal, saying if the freight movement is not started immediately, not only Punjab but union territories of Jammu and Kashmir; and Leh and Ladakh will also face an economic crisis.
The decision of the Railways to discontinue freight movement in Punjab subsequent to partial success of negotiations with farmers has negated efforts of the state so far, said the CM. He said earlier the state government had succeeded in convincing farm unions to allow partial the resumption of services with withdrawal of their blockade from October 22.
However, after the restoration of the movement of freight trains, the Railways unilaterally stopped these, the CM wrote in his letter to Goyal. The chief minister further said freight trains had continued almost uninterruptedly throughout the coronavirus lockdown period even when passenger trains were completely stopped. "There is now no plausible reason to stop freight operations," he said.
The opposition Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) too condemned the move. Farmer bodies said the Centre took the decision with an aim to defame and derail their agitation. SAD leader Daljit Singh Cheema described the move as "anti-punjab" and asked the Centre to take it back.
Why was the government deliberately stopping trains? It means they want to teach farmer bodies a lesson, he alleged. AAP MP and party's Punjab unit chief Bhagwant Mann alleged that it shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi has adopted a revengeful attitude towards the state. Mann in a statement said the arbitrary decision to stop goods trains to Punjab was a clever ploy of the Centre hatched under a deep-rooted conspiracy to sabotage farmers' struggle against the black laws. Meanwhile, Krantikari Kisan Union president Darshan Pal said the Centre is trying to defame farmers' agitation.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh alleged that the Centre was trying to take revenge from farmers for taking on the government and some corporate houses over the farm laws. Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee general secretary Sarwan Singh Pandher described it as step-motherly treatment to Punjab. Earlier in the day Divisional Railway Manager (Ferozepur Division) Rajesh Aggarwal in a release said it was decided on October 23 not to operate goods trains until the situation is completely restored.
This restriction was earlier meant for October 24 and 25 but now it has been extended till October 29, he said. The Divisional Railway Manager appealed to farmers to clear the rail tracks and vacate railway stations to enable them resume train operations in the state, according to the release.
Aggarwal said after a partial withdrawal of the ongoing agitation, the Ferozepur and Ambala divisions had resumed goods trains. A total of 173 goods trains were operated in the state during that period.
A rake of a passenger train was stopped in the Romana Albel Singh area, the railway authorities said, adding that it led to disruption in the movement of trains. In such a situation of uncertainty, the operation is not possible, Aggarwal said.
Farmer bodies in Punjab had decided to ease their rail roko agitation against the Centre's farm laws on October 21, allowing the movement of goods trains, three weeks after they blocked the rail tracks for an indefinite period. The decision was taken keeping in mind the shortage of coal and diammonium phosphate (DAP) fertiliser. Several industry bodies had also complained about not receiving their inputs due to the agitation.