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Bharat Bandh: Roads blocked, rail services hit in Punjab and Haryana

Dozens of farm leaders and activists were detained and the northern railways said 41 passenger trains and 40 freight trains had to be cancelled, diverted or delayed.

Farmers at Bahadurgarh Railway Station on Bharat Bandh called against the three new farm laws, in New Delhi, India, on Friday, March 26, 2021. (P#Times Media)

Bharat Bandh: Roads blocked, rail services hit in Punjab and Haryana

Dozens of farm leaders and activists were detained and the northern railways said 41 passenger trains and 40 freight trains had to be cancelled, diverted or delayed.

A 12-hour Bharat Bandh called by farmer groups affected large parts of Punjab, Haryana, Bihar and western Uttar Pradesh with road and rail transport severely hampered, although the impact of the nationwide demonstration was largely limited in other regions of the country.


The bandh, called by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) to protest against the three contentious farm laws, was in force from 6am to 6pm. Dozens of farm leaders and activists were detained and the northern railways said 41 passenger trains and 40 freight trains had to be cancelled, diverted or delayed.


The nationwide bandh was called to mark the day the agitation on the outskirts of the national capital completed four months. Thousands of farmers have been protesting at Delhi’s borders since November 26, seeking a repeal of the three farm laws passed by Parliament in September last year – Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.


The farmers fear the new laws will dismantle the Minimum Support Price (MSP)-system and corporatise farming. Talks between unions and the central government failed to resolve the stalemate despite 12 rounds of meetings.


Friday’s protests led to the blockage of railway tracks in at least 44 locations under the Delhi, Ambala and Ferozepur divisions of the railways, leading to cancellation of four high-speed Shatabdi trains, and the delay of 35 other passenger trains and 40 goods trains, according to a northern railway spokesperson DJ Narain.


“Barring some limited number of trains in Punjab and Haryana, the bandh has had almost zero impact across the nation. Other than in these two states, around five to six trains were delayed for some time. Less than 0.5% of trains impacted nationally. Trains are running smoothly,” he said.


On Friday, security was increased across toll plazas and railway stations in Punjab and Haryana as farmers blocked traffic on highways. Several shops remained shut and both public and private vehicles stayed off roads for the day.


“There are reports of successful ‘Bharat Bandh’ from almost every district in Haryana. Markets and other services in cities like Kurukshetra, Karnal, Sonipat, Yamunanagar, Ambala etc remained suspended. In Punjab, ‘Bharat Bandh’ programs were held in more than 200 places, including Mansa, Amritsar, Moga, Ferozepur, Jalandhar,” a statement said, adding that there was “impressive” impact in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.


The Eastern Peripheral Expressway near the national capital, too, was blocked while a sit-in was staged on a road connecting Delhi’s Nizamuddin to neighbouring Ghaziabad in the National Capital Region, news agency PTI reported.


Chamber of Trade and Industry (CTI) chairman Brijesh Goyal said there was no impact of the shutdown on markets and industrial areas of the national capital.


In Haryana, farmers blocked the Delhi-Ambala and Rohtak-Delhi highways with their tractors, and only allowed movement of school buses and ambulances in the area.


Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Sabha secretary Dayanand Punia said the demonstrators laid siege to railway platforms in the state till 6pm. “The labourers also joined our protest and rural areas also remained shut on Friday,” he said.


In Uttar Pradesh, the impact of the bandh was largely seen in western districts, with farmers blocking roads and highways in areas such as Bulandshahr, Meerut, Agra and Muzaffarnagar, BKU leaders said.


Twenty CPI (Marxist-Leninist) activists, protesting in Sikandarpur township of Ballia district, were taken into custody, news agency PTI reported.


In Gujarat, farmer leader Yudhvir Singh was detained for allegedly holding a press conference in a hotel in Ahmedabad without police permission and in violation of Covid-19 norms. “Gujarat has truly become a police state,” Jignesh Mevani, an independent legislator, said.


Barring areas such as Thane, Palghar, Nashik and Ahmednagar, the protest was overall scaled down in Maharashtra in the wake of surge of Covid-19 infections. “Due to the coronavirus outbreak, no large scale rallies have been planned in the state. However, we are submitting our petitions to 400 taluka centres and 30 collector officers in support of the farmers protest,” Sangharsh Samiti, an umbrella organisation of 110 farmers, said in a statement.


Stray incidents of forceful closure of businesses were reported but the strike remained largely peaceful in Bihar. There were little to no signs of a shutdown in poll-bound Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

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