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Capital braces for traffic chaos as farmers plan to converge at Delhi’s borders

Heightened security arrangements put in place for a march of farmers from Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh to the Capital were expected to trigger traffic chaos in the National Capital Region on Tuesday even as the Delhi Police have enforced prohibitory orders restricting movement and public gatherings.

Security personnel deployed at Singhu border. (PTI)

The farmers planned to converge at the Capital’s Singhu, Tikri, and Ghazipur border points on Tuesday afternoon. Rows of metal barricades, shipping containers, concertina wires, and trenches have been placed on Delhi’s fringes ahead of the march. Farm leaders confirmed the protest would continue after their meeting with Union ministers ended around midnight.

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The jams were expected to spill onto arterial stretches across the city, especially its outer, eastern, central, northern, and southern parts. In a revised traffic advisory on Monday evening, the Delhi Police warned commuters that traffic diversions “may be required at Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri borders depending on the conditions”.

An earlier advisory said that “traffic restrictions and diversions will be imposed at Singhu, Tikri, and Ghazipur borders from February 12 for commercial vehicles and from February 13 for all types of vehicles”.

Over 50 Delhi Police and paramilitary companies equipped with tear gas launchers and shells, bulletproof vests, helmets, batons, and sophisticated weapons were deployed at the Singhu, Tikri, and Ghazipur borders. Drones were also deployed over the city’s fringes.

Iron barricades, jersey barriers, shipping containers, barbed wire fencing, iron nails, hydra cranes, buses, and other vehicles form multi-layered blockades at the borders to stop the protesting farmers from entering Delhi.

An alert has been sounded in all police stations across the city and police personnel have been asked to intensify police pickets, patrolling, and checking of vehicles.

The police put up check-posts in central Delhi on Monday. Vehicles were checked at the Ranjit Singh flyover, Mandi House, ITO, Minto Bridge, Mathura Road, and Ring Road.

The preparations were put in place as talks in Punjab between Union ministers including Piyush Goyal and Arjun Munda with the heads of the protesting farmer bodies reached an impasse. The first meeting between the two sides on February 8 also ended in a stalemate.

Farmer leaders accused the government of trying to buy time even as authorities in Haryana and Punjab fortified the states’ borders, using concrete blocks, iron nails, and barbed wire to prevent the proposed march.

The Haryana government has imposed restrictions in 15 districts, prohibiting the assembly of five or more people and banning any demonstration or march with tractor-trolleys.

Farmers affiliated with 200 organisations and unions on Monday set off atop trucks and tractors en route to Delhi, defying curbs. Some protesters rammed down barricades with their vehicles, prompting authorities to deploy paramilitary and police forces to prevent farmers from marching to Delhi.

Munda said the government remained open to talks with the farmers. “We are hopeful of an early resolution,” said Munda after the meeting with farmer leaders. “We offered to constitute a committee to resolve all pending issues.”

Farmer leader Sarwan Singh Pandher, who attended the meeting, said the government did not appear serious about meeting their demands while announcing the march towards the Capital at 10am on Tuesday. He said the government has time to call them again for talks until that time.

The farmers are seeking minimum support prices for their crops, waivers on farm loans, and jobs for relatives of those killed during the 13-month-long farmers protest between November 2020 and December 2021. They are also demanding compensation for the farmers injured in Lakhimpur Kheri and the withdrawal of cases registered against protesting farmers.

Four protesting farmers were mowed down at Lakhimpur Kheri in October 2021. Union minister Ajay Kumar Mishra Teni’s son, Ashish Mishra, is the key accused in the mowing.

The Delhi Police on Monday extended restrictions on movement and public gatherings across the national capital for a month. The prohibitory orders were in place earlier only in east, northeast, outer-north, and outer police districts.

In 2020-21, cultivators held one of the biggest demonstrations in decades and prompted the government to repeal three agricultural reform laws enacted in September 2020.

Tens of thousands of farmers opposing the laws hunkered down on highways across several states for nearly 14 months. They virtually set up protest townships at five sites including Ghazipur, Singhu, and Tikri, and choked traffic, rejecting the government’s insistence that the laws would benefit them by giving them greater access to markets. Farm unions insisted the laws would leave cultivators at the mercy of corporations.

Security forces have sought to prevent a rerun of the agitations, taking pre-emptive measures to keep the protesters from entering the Capital. A police officer said elaborate security arrangements have been made at the key borders, taking into consideration the experience of the farmers’ agitation.

The farmers in 2020 seized the arterial roads on the three borders and then stormed the Red Fort on January 26, 2021.

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