Farmers vs Amarinder: Protests across Punjab against lockdown norms; CM warns agitators

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By PTI

CHANDIGARH: Despite appeals by farmers who took out protest marches against the weekend lockdown imposed by the state government, shopkeepers in Punjab kept their shops shut on Saturday.

Punjab’s 32 farmer unions, protesting the Central farm laws, had announced to hold street protests against the lockdown in the state and had urged shopkeepers to defy the restrictions.

Amid a second wave of COVID-19, farmers took out protest marches at several places, including Moga, Patiala, Amritsar, Ajnala, Nabha, Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur and Bathinda.

Carrying flags of their unions, farmers, including women, took out marches in the markets and appealed to shopkeepers and traders through loudspeakers to open their shops.

However, the shopkeepers kept their shops closed.

Police personnel in adequate numbers were deployed across the state in the wake of the protest call by farmers.

“We told farmers that we will not go against the law and order of the state and whatever the government decides, we will go by that,” said Punjab Pradesh Beopar Mandal general secretary Sameer Jain.

Another Ludhiana-based trader, Sunil Mehra, said shopkeepers will continue to raise their voice in a democratic way.

“How could we open shops when there is a weekend lockdown in the state,” asked Mehra.

Some traders said the district administrations had also assured them to find ways for the opening of shops dealing in non-essential items next week.

“We appealed to shopkeepers to open their shops. We told them that we are with them,” said Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan in Moga.

“The lockdown is not a solution to deal with the COVID-19 crisis,” he said, alleging that shopkeepers were forced to shut their shops.

Khokrikalan also accused the government of doing nothing to improve the health infrastructure despite being well aware of the second wave of COVID-19.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Friday had directed the state DGP to strictly enforce the weekend lockdown in the state and deal stringently with any violation in view of the farmers’ call for the protest.

The state government has imposed extensive COVID-19 curbs in addition to measures like the weekend lockdown and night curfew till May 15.

In Amritsar, a farmer leader said if the state government wanted to impose a weekend lockdown, then it should give ration to shopkeepers and waive their electricity bills and other taxes.

A police team took out a flag march in a market in Ajnala with officials saying nobody will be allowed to violate the curbs.

Earlier this week, shopkeepers in Punjab had held protests against the state government’s order of the closure of shops dealing in non-essential items.

The chief minister on Friday had authorised the deputy commissioners to take any decision on the opening of shops or private officers on rotation, after taking the local MLAs and other stakeholders into confidence.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Saturday reiterated that violation of the weekend lockdown in Punjab will not be allowed given the grim COVID-19 situation, even as 32 farmer unions took out protest marches against the restriction at several places in the state.

Farmer leaders have alleged that the government imposed the lockdown to hide its failure in handling the coronavirus situation and wants to weaken the farmers’ movement against the Centre’s new farm laws.

These restrictions are in place to save lives and not to “sabotage” the farmers’ movement against the Centre’s new farm laws, Singh said and added that his government was also vehemently opposed to the legislations.

“There are lives at stake, saving them is our priority, and it is the responsibility of every Punjabi to save them,” the chief minister said, urging leaders of farmer unions Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) and BKU (Ekta Dakaounda) not to misinterpret his Friday comments.

Amid a call of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) to oppose the weekend lockdown, Singh had on Friday asked the state police chief to strictly enforce all the weekend restrictions and not allow any violation at any cost.

The SKM, an umbrella body of over 40 farmers’ unions, is leading the protest against the central farm laws which were enacted in September last year.

Nobody can be allowed to play with the lives of people, the chief minister said on Saturday.

Singh said that leaders of the two organisations had misinterpreted his statement to raise doubts about his intentions towards the ongoing farmers’ stir against the “black” farm laws.

“How can my government go against the interests of farmers when it was the first in the country to move amendment laws in the state assembly to annul the draconian farm laws of the Central government,” he said in a statement issued here.

Singh said as far as the central laws are concerned, his government’s stand against them has been clear and consistent.

Farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, are demanding rollback of the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

However, the government has maintained that the new laws will bring better opportunities to farmers and introduce new technologies in agriculture.

Noting that the COVID-19 situation in Punjab is extremely grim, the chief minister said that as on May 6, the state had a 24-hour caseload of 8,874, 154 deaths, 265 patients admitted in isolation facilities, 30 patients on high dependency units and 16 on ventilator support.

“This is not the time to play politics but to put all our energies into protecting the life of every human being,” he said.

Appealing to farmers to extend all support and cooperation to the state government in its endeavour to combat the COVID-19 crisis, Singh said the lives and safety of the people of Punjab were of paramount interest to his government.

He reiterated that he would not allow anyone to further endanger the lives of Punjabis amid the escalating crisis.

The state government has stood with farmers in their fight against the “draconian” farm laws of the Centre and continues to do so, as it strongly believes them to be a direct “threat” to the very existence and livelihood of farmers, Singh said.

But at the moment, the state government is completely focused on saving lives, while ensuring that they do not suffer due to the harsh measures taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, he said.

Singh said to alleviate sufferings of the people, he had even asked the deputy commissioners to allow opening of even non-essential shops and private offices on rotation basis.

As many as 171 people died from coronavirus in Punjab on Saturday as the state reported yet another record daily spike of 9,100 case, pushing its infection tally to 4,33,689, according to a medical bulletin.

So far, the infection has killed 10,315 people in the state, where the number of active cases stands at 71,948.

Nineteen deaths were reported from Ludhiana, 17 each from Bathinda and Muktsar, 13 each from Amritsar and Patiala and 11 each from Sangrur and Jalandhar in the past 24 hours, the bulletin said.

Ludhiana registered the maximum 1,223 fresh cases, followed by 1,168 in Mohali, 706 in Bathinda and 672 in Jalandhar.

A total of 6,647 coronavirus patients were discharged after recovering from the infection, taking the number of cured persons to 3,51,426, the bulletin said.

There are 288 patients on ventilator while 9,086 are on oxygen support, it said.

A total of 77,07,585 samples have been collected for testing so far in the state, the bulletin said.

Meanwhile, Chandigarh–the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana—recorded nine deaths and 870 fresh cases.

So far, the city has reported 49,312 cases while the death toll stands at 558 deaths, according to a medical bulletin.

The city currently has 8,505 cases.

A total of 861 patients were discharged from hospitals, the bulletin said, adding that so far, 40,249 people have recovered from the infection.

Till now, 4,33,928 samples have been taken for testing, of which 3,83,480 tested negative while reports of 125 are awaited, the bulletin said.

Meanwhile, UT Adviser Manoj Parida said the Union government has been requested to increase the oxygen quota for the city from 20 metric tonnes to 35 MT to take care of increasing bed capacity and newly set up mini COVID care centres.

He said the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research has also requested the Centre to increase its oxygen quota to 40 MT.

State Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu on Saturday said the state will receive 35,000 Remdesivir injections from the Centre over the next week.

He further said the state’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has set up a Remdesivir Injection Monitoring Centre to stop its black marketing.

As per an intimation received from the Centre, Punjab will receive 35,000 Remdesivir injections from May 9 to 16, he said in a statement.

He said at present, the Health Department has 4,913 Remdesivir injections, 60,000 Dexamethasone 4 MG injections and 25 lakh tablets of paracetamol in the stock.

The Centre allocated 50,000 injections for distribution in Punjab from April 21 to May 9 while the state received 41,056 vials, he said.

The minister said 20,450 injections were distributed among the government-run COVID care centres and medical colleges while 20,606 were given to the private centres.

The health minister said the state government has constantly ensured the supply, availability and distribution of injections to government and private hospitals and urged people not to buy Remdesivir at high prices as the Health Department has the sufficient stock of it.

He also expressed concern over the black marketing and hoarding of COVID-related drugs.

The minister said he has directed the FDA to take stringent action against wholesalers, distributors and retailers if anyone found doing such activities.

Sidhu instructed the FDA to monitor the prices and stocks of COVID-related drugs across the state and act promptly against the sellers who violate the guidelines.



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