Goods, not protests, stopped in their tracks


The farmers protesting in Punjab towards the Central authorities’s farm legal guidelines say they’re not agitating on railway tracks and platforms anymore, however practice companies are but to be resumed. Vikas Vasudeva experiences on the impression of the blockade on business and agriculture

November is usually a busy month in Punjab because the wheat crop is all set for sowing. But this yr, the air is thick with resistance. On the tenth day of the month, exterior the railway station in Shambhu village in Patiala district on the Punjab-Haryana border, farmers collect to agitate towards the Centre’s three current controversial farm laws. They have come to switch a gaggle of farmers who’ve simply left the makeshift website after spending a cold winter evening in protest.

On the stage of the makeshift protest website the farmers reiterate their resolve: ‘Long live the unity of 30 farmer outfits’. Farmers trooping in say they’re distressed in regards to the Centre’s perspective in direction of their issues; they suppose the Centre is being detached and confrontational. But they’re not indignant with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central authorities alone; they’re additionally upset with the Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal — events who many allege are working solely to realize political mileage forward of the 2022 Assembly election in the State.

The farmers need their voices to be heard and their calls for to be met. Their agitation initially halted practice companies in the State. The farmers say that they stopped protesting on tracks and platforms just a few weeks in the past, however the Railways are but to renew operations in the State. Talks between Central Ministers and protesting Punjab farmer unions on Friday ended inconclusively with the federal government saying that it was open to extra talks. The farmers are towards the resumption of passenger companies, however are indignant that the Centre hasn’t resumed items trains, despite the fact that that they had lifted the blockade on the tracks. The absence of provide has set off a large financial disaster that pervades a number of sectors starting from farming to manufacturing.

‘Ours is a peaceful protest’

The farmers additionally say that they’ll not budge till their issues are addressed. “We are not squatting on railway tracks or on the platform any more. We have announced that goods trains will be allowed to move. Yet the Central government has not resumed railway services. This is nothing but a confrontational attitude. Our indefinite ‘rail roko’ agitation started on October 1. It was completely peaceful. Can you tell us about any incident of violence? There hasn’t been a single such incident,” says Hazura Singh Mirzapur, a farmer chief of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal) and co-ordinator of the protest on the Shambhu railway station.

“We were occupying railway tracks till the afternoon of October 22. After that we vacated the tracks and moved to the platforms. On November 4, members of 30 farmer outfits collectively decided to shift the agitation from railway platforms to nearby vicinities. Since November 5, we have been sitting outside the railway station and protesting peacefully. On October 22, at 3.28 p.m., a goods train passed through this station. That happened the next day too; we have records. But from October 24, the movement of trains was stopped. Why is that,” asks Mirzapur.

The 30 farmer outfits, chopping throughout political affiliations, had first introduced on October 21 that they might enable the motion of products trains until November 5. On November 4, they determined to increase the motion of products trains until November 20. However, they made it clear that they might not enable motion of passenger trains till their calls for had been met. The Railways say losses as a result of agitation have crossed ₹1,200 crore in the final month.

Gurbaksh Singh Balbera, one other farmer chief, says the farmers are upset that they had been not taken into confidence by the Centre earlier than introduction of the brand new farm legal guidelines. Now that they’re agitating, the federal government is giving Punjab step-motherly therapy, he says. “These laws have been imposed on us. We will stop protesting only when they are withdrawn. Farmers are protesting in other States as well, and trains are plying in all those States except Punjab. Why is there step-motherly treatment towards Punjab? As far as the issue of security is concerned, which is being raised by the Railways, the State government has already given us an assurance that the police will extend all their support to the Railways in providing security to enable smooth movement of freight trains,” he says.

No trains, no items

As farmers collect to debate the day’s technique, Jaspal Singh, a farmer from Mandauli village, factors out the issues that individuals have began going through: “There’s a shortage of urea in the market. Shop owners have told me that new stock will come only after train services are resumed. I have sown wheat in my field and I am now preparing to use last year’s stock of urea. Also, domestic power cuts in the morning and evening for around two hours each are being imposed for the last few days. At night, power cuts for tubewells are in place these days, which is hampering sowing operations.”

Goods, not protests, stopped in their tracks

 

Sukhchain Singh, a 35-year-old farmer, has bought wheat seeds not too long ago from Ambala in Haryana as high quality seeds are not out there in his neighborhood. “Earlier I used to get seeds from Ghanaur in Punjab. But this time the dealers have informed me that there’s a shortage of seeds on account of trains not moving. I had to shell out more money to buy seeds,” he says.

A number of kilometres from the railway station on the Amritsar-Delhi nationwide freeway on the Shambhu border, there are additionally sit-in protests inside two makeshift tents. At one of many websites, below the banner of the Amritsar Kisan Union, related to the Shiromani Akali Dal, only some individuals are current. Lakhvir Singh, vice-president of the union, says the Central authorities has been performing in a “vindictive manner” towards the farmers of Punjab who’ve raised their voice towards the farm legal guidelines. “The people of Punjab are being humiliated. Not resuming goods train services is an attempt to impose an economic blockade. Are we not citizens and do we not have a right to protest,” he asks.

The adjoining protest website homes a gaggle of individuals led by a Punjabi actor-turned-activist, Deep Sidhu. The gathering is a mixture of the younger and outdated. Ranjit Singh of Mahru village says he’s combating for the “rights of Punjab” and as a Punjabi, he received’t relent. “We are facing power cuts. The local industry is facing a shortage of raw materials as goods trains services have been stopped. It’s the government’s strategy to weaken our movement but we won’t budge,” he says whereas serving meals to his fellow protesters.

On the identical freeway, in Gandian village, just a few farmers have blocked entry to a gas station run by a non-public firm. They say the brand new farm legal guidelines will promote company management of meals and farming techniques, and by protesting exterior a “corporate house”, they’re conveying the message that they’re not keen to just accept “corporatisation of farming”.

“The biggest fear is that the government will stop purchasing wheat and paddy in the coming years, which will eventually eliminate the Minimum Support Price regime and destroy the ‘mandi’ system. Where will I go then? It’s a conspiracy to phase out farmers from agriculture and let big corporates take over gradually,” says Parvinder Singh, a farmer collaborating in the protest. “By not resuming goods train services, the government is trying to scare us as it results in a shortage of urea, fertilizers, seeds, etc. But our resolve is only getting stronger. This a battle for our survival and the generations to come.”

Sumit, 24, says the federal government wants to grasp that the railway deadlock will hit neighbouring areas together with Himachal Pradesh, Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir. “We produce our own foodgrains and vegetables. We have stocks. If the government thinks that by stopping trains it can pressure us, it is wrong. The people in the neighbouring States could suffer, however, especially the armed forces. With the onset of winter, they may run out of supplies once snowfall blocks the roads to Ladakh and the Valley,” he says.

Harvinder Singh of Nagawan village says he has sown wheat in his 15-acre farm with final yr’s stocked seed. “I am not worried even if there’s no urea or there are no pesticides available in the absence of train services. The important thing is that I need to stand against these black laws. Otherwise they will spell doom for future generations,” he says.

A ripple impact

The suspension of products trains has adversely impacted a number of sectors together with agro-processing, engineering, hosiery, pharmaceutical, textile and energy. The provide of uncooked materials has lowered significantly, and supply of merchandise has come to a close to halt.

Industry gamers and economists say that if the blockade is not eliminated, it may have a number of results on inter-related worth chains throughout sectors hampering manufacturing and livelihoods.

Farmers hold a sit-in protest outside the Shambhu railway station in Punjab’s Patiala district on November 11, 2020.

Farmers maintain a sit-in protest exterior the Shambhu railway station in Punjab’s Patiala district on November 11, 2020.  
| Photo Credit: V. V. Krishnan

 

“In Punjab, rail traffic had halted for about a month. The loss is not confined to Punjab’s boundaries, this is a loss to the country. As per the Annual Survey of Industries (2017-18), Punjab has 5.4% of the organised manufacturing factories in the country, with 4.5% of the total persons engaged in manufacturing and contributing about 2.2% to the total net value added from the Indian organised manufacturing sector. Further, as per the National Sample Survey Organisation (73rd round), there are 14.56 lakh micro, small and medium enterprises in Punjab with 24.8 lakh employees. According to the latest IMF World Economic Outlook (October 2020), growth projections for India for 2020 is -10.3% for the fiscal year basis starting April 2020. These projections are probably considering only the COVID-19 effects on the economy. But what would be the projections if other internal causes hampering growth were also taken into account such as the ‘rail roko’ in Punjab,” asks Swati Mehta, assistant professor on the Punjab School of Economics, Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar.

According to the statistical summary of Punjab (2018 and 2019), says Mehta, commodities like mineral oils and different edible oils, kerosene, jute, cement, iron and metal, electrical items, fertilizers and chemical compounds come in bulk to Punjab. “Therefore, the dearth of raw materials that are used mainly in agriculture and the industrial sector is hampering growth. Apart from exporting foodgrains and other agricultural commodities, Punjab exports hosiery and ready-made garments, leather products, sewing machines, electric switch gears and electrical accessories, auto spares, sports goods, hand tools and machine tools. In 2018-19, the value of exports of industrial goods from Punjab was ₹1,01,758.38 crore (Statistical Abstract of Punjab, 2019). Thus, the estimated per day loss to Punjab with curbs on exports is expected to be around ₹278 crore,” she says.

“Missing production deadlines would have a negative impact on future production orders. It will also impede future investment prospects in the State. With the Railways as the cheapest means of cargo transportation, the halting of trains has broken the backward and forward linkages in local and global value chains thus hurting the already COVID-19-hit economies. Hence, in the path of revival, governments at different levels along with other stakeholders should work together to find a path to revive growth and secure jobs of the people,” she provides.

A extreme blow

The disaster triggered by the suspension of products trains had resulted in the curtailment of agricultural and greens provides in the State. According to the State agriculture division, fertilizer is probably the most crucial enter for sustainable manufacturing of wheat crop, sowing of which has already began. Punjab receives the availability of fertilizers from Gujarat and different States by means of the Railways. At current, scarcity of urea is being felt in the vegetable-growing areas of the State and the required portions are being supplemented by shifting truckloads of urea from National Fertilizers vegetation at Nangal and Bathinda. But it should not be attainable to move giant portions of fertilizer by means of vehicles for assembly the requirement of the wheat crop, in keeping with a current report of the agriculture division.

Ashok Sethi, director of the Punjab Rice Millers and Exporters Association, says the agro-processing business has taken a extreme blow in the previous few days. “The continuing impasse over the movement of goods trains services has shaken the confidence of the agro-processing industry and has caused distress to rice exporters. Over 2,000 rice export containers are stranded at an inland container depot in Ludhiana for almost two months attracting huge demurrage, which has added to financial losses. Shipping companies are charging about $54 per day and it is estimated that ₹25 crore has already been lost. Already rice worth ₹5,000 crore is blocked due to non-movement of rail container cargo.”

He provides: “It is imperative that the State and Central governments engage in a meaningful dialogue with total sincerity to find a solution to the situation. Their adamant attitude is extremely worrying and any delay will harm the future of rice exports.”

Ludhiana-based Vikram Jeet, proprietor of Newstar industries, engaged in the manufacturing of fasteners together with nuts, bolts, studs, rivets and screws, says manufacturing has gone down by a minimum of 50% because of non-availability of uncooked materials. “Manufacturing units of cycle parts, auto parts, sewing machines and tractor parts are also facing the same problems. As racks of steel scrap, coal and sponge iron is not coming, the local steel mills and traders have increased the price of steel by about 25%,” he says.

The textile industrial unit house owners have comparable issues. “Since last month, over 5,000 inbound and outbound containers are stuck at the Ludhiana inland container depot. At present, essential raw material including yarns, chemicals and finished goods are not being cleared to meet Diwali sales. This will dampen the business spirit,” says Ramesh Jagota, president, All India Mink Blanket Manufacturers Association.

Sachin Khanna, a number one blanket exporter in Amritsar, says, “We had shelled out more than triple the amount to ferry our goods through containers by road to Mudra Port. We have paid ₹30,000 extra for each of the five export containers. It’s an extraordinary situation, especially for Punjab due to its location and the problem of logistics.”

The suspension of railway companies has additionally taken a toll on the pharmaceutical business in Himachal Pradesh. “The pharmaceutical units that are booking export consignments through Punjab’s Ludhiana dry port are being drastically affected,” says Rajesh Gupta, president of the Himachal Pradesh Drugs Manufacturers Association.

Last week, the State authorities had said that it had run out of coal shares, bringing energy technology at coal-based thermal vegetation in the State to a digital halt. The daytime energy scarcity ranging between 1,000 megawatts and 1,500 megawatts has compelled the facility division to impose energy cuts on all residential, business and agricultural shoppers. The Punjab State Power Corporation Limited says it was left with no technology management. Market charges of energy continued to be extremely unstable and will spike any time, ensuing in a rise in the price of energy buy, on which the State is now fully dependent to feed its cables.

The Railways declined to renew solely items practice companies in Punjab after protesters cleared the tracks, asserting that they’ll function each items and passenger trains or none in any respect. All inward and outward items transportation together with important commodities have been affected adversely in Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, and Himachal Pradesh.

“Any decision on allowing the movement of passenger trains will be taken on November 18 at our joint meeting of unions. The ongoing impasse is due to the authoritarian attitude of the Central government and discrimination towards Punjab farmers,” says Jagmohan Singh, common secretary, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda).



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