NEW DELHI: The Shambhu and Jind borders between Haryana and Punjab looked like battlefields as farmers from Punjab tried to break past the barricades set up by the Haryana police to stop them from heading to the national capital as part of their “Delhi Chalo” call. The protesting farmers hurled stones and the police resorted to firing in the air and lobbing tear gas shells, some dropped through drones, to disperse the crowd.
As a large group pressed ahead to Delhi, some farmers were detained at the Singhu border between Delhi and Haryana. Besides, a heavy deployment of security personnel and multi-layered barricades are in place to seal the national capital borders at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur. The roadblocks and stringent checking as part of security arrangements in view of the farmers’ protest led to a harrowing time for regular commuters.
Elsewhere, Union agriculture minister Arjun Munda said consensus was reached on most issues. He said the government has accepted most of the demands of the farmers’ and proposed to form a panel to look into certain issues. The law on minimum support price (MSP) cannot be brought in a hurry and wider consultations with stakeholders are needed, he said. The farmers rejected the offer.
At about 10 am, a large group of farmers, including women, packed in tractor-trolleys and other vehicles left from Punjab’s Fatehgarh Sahib, about 40 km from the border with the BJP-ruled Haryana. The farmers could be seen carrying dry rations, waterproof sheets and mattresses, making it clear they were ready for the long haul.
While farmers from Punjab struggled to make their move towards Delhi, farmers from Haryana joined the protest, starting from their respective areas, after talks between the Centre and farmers failed on Monday night.
Besides a legal guarantee for MSP, the farmers are demanding the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations, pensions for farmers and farm labourers, farm debt waivers, withdrawal of police cases and “justice” for victims of the Lakhimpur Kheri violence. Among other demands, the farmers also want the government to reinstate the Land Acquisition Act 2013, withdraw from the World Trade Organisation and give compensation to the families of farmers who died during the previous agitation.
Minister Arjun Munda urged the protesting farmer groups to have a structured discussion with the government on the issue and cautioned them to be “aware and alert” about some elements that could defame their protest for political benefits.
Munda and commerce minister Piyush Goyal have held two rounds of discussion with the farmers’ groups, including Samyuka Kisan Morcha (non-political) and Kisan Mazdoor Morcha in Chandigarh, which are spearheading the `Delhi Chalo’ agitation, to resolve their concerns.
The Kirti Kisan Union said in a statement, “The BJP governments are creating an atmosphere of terror to scare people. The BJP government is treating the protesters as enemies of the country.”
Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) president Naresh Tikait said the Centre should hold talks with the farmers and alleged that its “stubborn approach” is proving to be dangerous. The BKU chief wondered whether the farmers will always be in agitation mode, block roads or head towards Delhi.
Stepping up the pressure on the government, one faction of the farmers gave a call for Bharat Bandh on February 16. During the Bharat Bandh, Tikait said school vans, vehicles carrying patients and military vehicles will be exempt.
Meanwhile, security in Delhi has been intensified with multi-layer barricades, concrete blocks, iron nails and walls of containers at border points. Over 5,000 police and paramilitary personnel in anti-riot gear have been deployed at the three border points — Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur.
Central Delhi has been put under heavy security cover, with barricades regulating access to several key roads, causing hardship to commuters. On Monday, the Delhi police enforced Section 144 in the city.
Makeshift jails have been set up at “specific locations” in view of the march. However, the Delhi government has rejected the Centre’s proposal to convert Bawana Stadium into a makeshift jail as Delhi home minister Kailash Gahlot denied permission and expressed solidarity with the farmers’ march.
Several important points in Delhi, like the Red Fort, India Gate, Central Delhi, and Parliament, were heavily barricaded. Multiple gates at nine stations of the Delhi Metro were shut down and exit-entry points too had heavy police deployments. The Red Fort complex has been temporarily closed for visitors due to security reasons.
Commuters struggled to reach offices and get back home, with several stuck on the roads for hours. Students going to school and colleges and those appearing for exams were the biggest sufferers.
Those entering Delhi from Uttar Pradesh borders also faced traffic snarls due to barricading. Forces were deployed at the Ghazipur border and the connecting roads were fortified with barbed wires and dumpers loaded with sand and iron spikes.
The traffic jams at the Ghazipur border extended up to several kilometres, with the service lane obstructed by security forces. The affected roads connect Delhi with Bareilly, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Rishikesh, Dehradun, Mussoorie, Moradabad, and Nainital. However, the Delhi-Meerut expressway was opened for traffic.
Security forces were also deployed at the Chilla border. Traffic jams were also reported on the roads connecting Delhi with Noida.
At the Delhi-Noida border, the checking of vehicles was intensified to prevent farmers from entering Delhi through private vehicles, impacting the traffic movement.