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Bharat Bandh hits traffic in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi

Farmers block the Delhi-Meerut Expressway on March 26, 2021.   | Photo Credit: MOORTHY R.V.

Farmers protesting the three contentious agricultural laws disrupted road and rail transport and closed down shops in much of Punjab and Haryana in response to the Samyukt Kisan Morcha’s call for a Bharat bandh on Friday. Parts of Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Rajasthan also saw shutdowns, while there was a scattered impact in other States.

SKM leaders were detained by the police in Ahmedabad and Bengaluru, and some local farmer leaders were placed under precautionary house arrest in Uttar Pradesh.

The nationwide strike call, supported by central trade unions and some transporters and traders groups, was from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Protesting farm unions under the banner of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha marked the four month anniversary of their agitation on the borders of Delhi.

Normal life was disrupted in Punjab and Haryana, the two States which have spearheaded the protest, even as the shutdown remained peaceful. Shops and commercial establishments were seen completely or partially closed except in the joint capital Chandigarh, where they remained open. In Punjab, protestors blocked roads in over 250 places, including national and State highways, disrupting vehicular movement. Public transport, including buses and taxis were hardly seen on the roads. Supply of essential commodities was disrupted at a few places.

In Haryana, Director General of Police Manoj Yadava, told The Hindu that the bandh was “fairly strong” with around half-a-dozen blockades in each district on an average. Two national highways, Delhi-Hisar and Delhi-Ambala, were also affected, but mostly the blockades were on the internal roads and the State highways. Agitating farmers sat on the railway tracks at 11 points in the State, affecting the movement of around a hundred trains, a Haryana Railway Police officer said.

Nationwide, four Shatabdi trains were cancelled, 35 other passenger trains were detained and the movement of 40 goods trains were affected by the protests, according to a Railway spokesperson.

In Ahmedabad, police disrupted a press conference being addressed by the BKU-Tikait group’s general secretary Yudhvir Singh and detained him along with eight other farmer leaders.

“This is wrong. This is a dictatorship. It is not a crime to speak to the press. It is a right in a democracy,” Mr Singh told journalists, even as the police pulled leaders out of their chairs and led them to police vans.

In Bengaluru, farmer leaders attempted to hold a mock funeral procession for the three farm laws, but were detained by city police at multiple locations.

“In which democracy does the police not allow citizens to hold a peaceful protest? We have even withdrawn the bandh, but not allowing us to hold a demonstration is undemocratic,” said farmer leader Kodohalli Chandrashekhar, who was detained at a protest in front of Town Hall.

U.P. Police arrived outside the home of Mukut Singh, State general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), in Etawah around 7 a.m. and placed him under house arrest as a precautionary measure.

“The Yogi government is scared of the farmers, so they have banned all protests. But we will keep raising our voices until we are heard,” Mr. Singh said, adding that district-level leaders of the AIKS had also been put under house arrest.

Although there were a few demonstrations in parts of Delhi, the strike had no impact on normal life in the national capital. On the Delhi-Haryana and Delhi-U.P. border sites at Singhu and Ghazipur, where protesting farmers have set up camp, the national highways and surrounding roads were blocked, with both carriageways of NH-24 being closed for traffic.

In Rajasthan, markets and agricultural mandis remained closed only in the towns bordering Haryana and Punjab, with maximum impact in Sriganganagar and Hanumangarh districts. Farmers camped at Shahjahanpur for the last three months blocked traffic on the roads adjacent to the Jaipur-Delhi national highway for some time.

The bandh call evoked a total response in Andhra Pradesh, with support coming from the ruling YSR Congress Party as well as the Opposition. Trade and commercial establishments voluntarily downed their shutters. The State-owned transport corporation kept its fleet of buses in the depots, while truckers associations ensured their members also stayed off the roads.

In Odisha, all educational institutions were shut, and the movement of trains and buses were affected for a few hours. A number of farmer leaders courted arrest at Master Canteen Square.

“The three farm laws would help corporate gain control over agriculture sector. Farmers will lose their bargaining power as market yards will be controlled by the people sitting over huge cash. Over a period of times, price of grain would be dictated by influential corporate houses,” said Suresh Panigrahi, a leader of the Akhil Bharat Krushak Sangharsh Samannawy Samiti.

The SKM said demonstrations were also held in Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Jammu and Kashmir.

Apart from the repeal of the three farm laws, the SKM is demanding a new law to guarantee minimum support prices and procurement of their produce, a rollback of the Electricity Bill and the law on pollution in the capital which criminalises stubble burning. They also demanded that all police cases against protesting farmers be withdrawn and called for the reduction of prices of petrol, diesel and gas.

Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, have been camped on the outskirts of Delhi since November 26, although the numbers have dwindled somewhat in recent weeks. Despite 11 rounds of talks with the Centre, no resolution was reached. The Supreme Court suspended the implementation of the three farm laws, and set up a committee to examine the issue, which is due to submit its report soon.

(with inputs from Chandigarh, Gurugram, Delhi, Jaipur, Bhubaneswar, Bengaluru and Andhra Pradesh, and PTI)

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Printable version | May 15, 2021 2:44:51 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/bharat-bandh-vehicular-movement-hit-in-punjab-haryana-delhi/article34166916.ece

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