Almost a lakh of farmers thronged in an indefinite action led by the Bharatiya Kisan Union(Ugrahan)for almost a week from October 9th-15th , near the Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann’s local residence, at Sangrur. Similar to last year’s agitation at the Singhu and Tikri borders, they came prepared , parking their loaded tractors on the roadside, cooking food and establishing a new village up at the venue. The main accent of the strike was on crop loss relief, allocation of special budget for water projects , checking pollution of many canals and punishment of the Killers in Lakhimpur Kheri.Interestingly, the indefinite agitation has given an opportunity to the farmers to intensify their pressure or stranglehold against the Centre and the state government.
Notably, the farmers voiced distinctive demands from the Centre and the state government. Like from the Punjab Government, they are demanding the immediate release of crop loss relief, special assessment of crops damaged recently, allotment of special budget for public water projects, closure of liquor factory near Zira for causing pollution, quick action to prevent the pollution of various canals by industrialists of Ludhiana and other districts. Meanwhile, from the Centre, the farmers are demanding quick action against all persons involved in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, release of innocent farmers, a government job each to the families of deceased and Rs 10 lakh financial aid to each family, etc.
“More farmers arrived here with the same preparations as they made for the yearlong agitation at the Delhi borders. We assembled here for a long haul,” said Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan, general secretary, BKU-Ugrahan.
“Despite making big claims, the Punjab Government has failed to fulfil our long-pending demands. It claims there’s dearth of funds, then why is it wasting crores of rupees on highlighting their achievements in the media? Like me, all farmers have come prepared for a long agitation,” said Rajinder Singh, an elderly person sitting in his trailer parked near the protest site on the Sangrur-Patiala road.
As harvesting of paddy has begun and men are busy in the fields, women had outnumbereded men at the indefinite protest launched under the banner of the Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), near Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann’s residence on Patiala Road.
Women protesters said the year-long stir on the borders of New Delhi enabled them to imbibe considerable knowledge about the farming issues.
Jagir Kaur, a senior citizen, said, “We suffered huge losses due to repeated crop failure. We have not received any financial assistance from the government despite repeated crop assessment. Every crop loss pushes us further under a debt trap.”
Jasvir Kaur, another protester, said, “The Centre is acquiring fertile land in various villages for the Delhi-Katra Expressway, but farmers are being offered different rates. Some farmers got Rs 92 lakh per acre, others Rs 72 lakh and many received Rs 66 lakh per acre. It’s unacceptable and we will intensify our agitation over the issue.” A majority of women reach the protest site after completing their household chores in the morning.
“We are not idle. We cannot sit on a protest indefinitely as paddy harvesting has begun and we have to take care of our fields. If the government fails to fulfil our demands, we have decided to take some big action against it on October 20,” said Joginder Singh Ugrahan, president, BKU (Ugrahan).
Farmers, under the banner of the BKU (Ugrahan), pledged that the union would launch a major action on October 20 against the state government if it failed to concede to their “accepted” demands.
The farmers have been staging a dharna for seven days near the local residence of Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann over their long-pending demands..
Asked about what course of action the union planned to undertake, the president said it would be determined by the members and leaders of the union.
Harsh Thakor is freelance journalist who has covered mass movements all around India and frequently toured Punjab