Punjab farmer groups divided on response to Centre’s call for talks on rail stoppage

Farmers block a railway track during a protest against the new farm law, at Jandiala Guru in Amritsar, Wednesday, November 4, 2020.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Punjab farmer groups divided on response to Centre’s call for talks on rail stoppage

Farmers groups insist they will come to the capital for protest on November 26 and 27, despite the Delhi Police denying permission for a rally at the Jantar Mantar protest site, citing COVID-19 and other restrictions. Punjab farmer leaders also say they have not yet decided on how to respond to the Centre’s call for talks on Friday to resolve the situation arising from the stoppage of goods trains to the State, with no consensus among different groups about how to engage with the government.

The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a platform including more than 300 farmer groups, had given the call for a Dilli Chalo protest on November 26 and 27, demanding the repeal of three controversial farm reform laws passed by Parliament, as well as the Electricity Bill 2020. Applications had been made for permission to hold a rally at Jantar Mantar, near Parliament Street, as well as to accommodate protesting farmers at the Ramlila Maidan.

In a letter dated November 4, which was received on Tuesday night, the Deputy Commissioner of Police for New Delhi district rejected the application for a Jantar Mantar rally, citing the Delhi Disaster Management Authority’s COVID-19 guidelines against large gatherings, as well as the imposition of Section 144 and other standing orders.

“COVID-19 should not be used as an excuse to deny farmers the right to protest,” said Satyawan, a Haryana-based farmer leader from the All India Kisan Khet Mazdoor Sangathan. “Just now in Bihar, all parties were willing to hold huge rallies for political purposes without worrying about COVID. When it comes to farmers alone, COVID becomes an issue,” he added. Promising to follow safety guidelines, leaders pointed out that a number of protests have been held in Jantar Mantar over the last few months despite COVID-19, with high profile participants including the Delhi Chief Minister and Members of Parliament.

“We are coming to Delhi with or without permission, so we advise the Delhi Police to grant the permission,” said Raja Ram Singh, a Bihar leader of the All India Kisan Mahasabha. A review request is being filed with the police.

Krantikari Kisan Union president Darshan Pal accused the Centre of blackmailing the people of Punjab by preventing the passage of goods trains. The stoppage of trains began after farmer protests blocking rail tracks and stations; although farm leaders say they have now ended the rail roko protest, the Railway Ministry has not allowed the renewal of rail services, resulting in shortages of essential goods in the State.

AIKSCC has called for 1 lakh emails to be sent to the President of India on Wednesday, from farmers across the country in solidarity with the people of Punjab.

The Centre has called for talks with the Punjab government and 32 farmers groups on Thursday to resolve the situation. “Only 10 out of the 32 are members of AIKSCC and there are differences of opinion on how to respond to the government’s invitation, so it is complicated. We will hold a meeting [on Wednesday] to reach a consensus decision,” said Dr. Darshan Pal.