Why is the PM not meeting farmers?: Has New Delhi declared war on Punjab? 

Punjab and J and K are running dangerously short of coal, fertilizer, food grains, essential goods and raw materials because freight trains are stalled for a month

 Why is the PM not meeting farmers?: Has New Delhi declared war on Punjab? 

Bipin Bhardwaj

New Delhi does not seem to have taken the farmers’ agitation in the state against the farm bills kindly. Farmers had stopped movement of trains to Punjab from Delhi as part of their ‘Rail Roko’ agitation. But their demand for a dialogue with the PM and the Agriculture Minister went unheeded. When they were finally invited to a meeting, their representatives stormed out of the meeting, refusing to discuss their demands with only bureaucrats.

Battle lines were drawn when the Punjab Assembly passed three Bills to nullify the effect of the three similar Bills passed by the Centre in September, formalizing the ordinances it had issued in June. The Centre believes the state laws to be unlawful and unconstitutional.

Burning the effigies of the Prime Minister and the Agriculture Minister on Dussehra seem to have hardened the position of New Delhi. And although the farmers have lifted the ‘Rail Roko’ agitation, responding to appeals by the chief minis ter, movement of trains had not resumed till October 29.

“Not only will Punjab face serious disruption in economic activities and shortage of essential supplies, but Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Leh and Ladakh will also face serious economic crisis,” warned the chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh in a letter to Piyush Goyal. And state minister Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa accused the Union government of trying to settle political scores with the Congress government in Punjab.

“The fertiliser is needed in mid-November for sowing the wheat crop in Punjab, and that should have been in stock with us by now,” says Randhawa. Facing shortage of coal, fertiliser and other industrial and agricultural goods, the state fears that the situation will worsen in the coming days if movement of goods trains do not resume soon.

Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal apprehends a major power crisis as coal stock at power plants dwindle. With the suspension of goods trains to Punjab and onwards to Jammu and Kashmir, Badal claims that supply of goods including foodgrains to the security personnel and army jawans will also be affected.

Power generation have stopped at the State-owned thermal plants at Bathinda, Ropar and Lehra Mohabbat. The government is purchasing power from other sources. The Goindwal Thermal Plant also shut down due to non-supply of coal. A. Venu Prasad, CMD, Punjab State Power Corporation Limited (PSPCL), says that the state is left with only a few days’ stock of coal.

Ashwani Kumar, a Jalandhar based industrialist, says that with the suspension of trains, industries have been hit hard. Besides financial losses, the industries are also losing goodwill and customers for their inability to deliver finished goods in promised time due to severe shortage of raw materials.

Harinder Singh Lakhowal, a former general secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Union slammed the Union government for allegedly trying to muzzle the farmers’ voice. Had the Union Government consulted the farmers in the first place, there would have been no need to protest, he points out. Since the farm bills were part of a political and policy decision, he says, farmers wanted to meet the PM and the Agriculture Minister, not the Agriculture Secretary. The refusal of the PM and the Agriculture Minister to meet the farmers and discuss the issues, he alleged, has led to the impasse. The onus is on them to end the deadlock. Farmers were left with no option but to agitate.

The plan is to intensify the agitation in the coming days, he warned.

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