CHANDIGARH, Punjab—Even as farmers eased the blockade of rail tracks, the Government of India has extended a ban on the movement of goods in Punjab thereby making its residents face non-supply of essential items and impacting the economic activities in the state.
To press their demand for revocation of anti-farmer laws enacted by the BJP-led union government of India, farmers have been laying a siege to the railway tracks in the state for around a month. After the Punjab assembly rejected these laws and passed bills to counter them, the agitating farmers eased their stir allowing movement of the goods trains. Yet, the government is not restarting the operation of the goods train.
Taking serious note of this, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has sought the personal intervention of Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal for the immediate restoration of freight movement, which remains suspended in and through the state.
In a statement, the Chief Minister said he spoke to the Union Minister on Monday in the light of the decision of the Railways to extend the ban on movement of goods trains, initially imposed for two days (on October 24 and 25), for another four days.
The decision of the Railways to discontinue freight movement in Punjab subsequent to partial success of negotiations with the farmers had negated the efforts of the State so far, said the Chief Minister, warning that the move may, in fact, further provoke the agitated farmers protesting against the Centre’s farm laws.
Citing the grave impact of the non-restoration of freight traffic by the Railways, the Chief Minister also wrote to Goyal expressing serious concern that if the freight movement is not started immediately, “not only Punjab will face serious disruption in economic activities and shortage of essential supplies, but Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Leh & Ladakh will also face serious economic crisis.” He cited various requests received by the state government from different quarters, including Central Ministries and Departments, for immediate resumption of freight movement through Punjab.
Earlier, the state government, through constant engagement in negotiations with the Kisan Unions, had succeeded in convincing them to allow partial resumption of services with withdrawal of their blockade from October 22. However, after restoration of movement of freight trains on October 23, the Railways had unilaterally stopped movement of all freight trains in Punjab, Captain Amarinder pointed out in his DO letter to Goyal.
Incidentally, pointed out the Chief Minister, freight trains had continued almost uninterruptedly throughout the lockdown period even when the passenger trains operations were completely stopped. “There is now no plausible reason to stop freight operations in and through Punjab,” he said, adding that his government was also continuing with its efforts to persuade the protesting farmers to restore the passenger railway traffic also.
“Banning inbound goods trains to Punjab could amount to economic blockade & shatter its already staggering economy”, said SAD (B) president Sukhbir Badal.
He added, “This approach smacks of needless and ominous confrontation, which will serve no one’s interest. It will also devastate business, trade, industry and agriculture in Punjab. The decision needs to be reversed immediately. Hence, I urge the Government of India to immediately resume normal goods train services in the state”