Even as Indian Railways are bearing huge losses due to the ongoing ‘Rail Roko’ agitation by the farmers in Punjab, journalist Shekhar Gupta has attempted to shield the inaction of the Punjab government in getting the tracks cleared and instead passed the buck of the continuing deadlock on the Modi government.
Taking to Twitter, Gupta critiqued the Modi government’s handling of Punjab protests by stopping all the rail traffic, alleging that the government’s decision to stop trains was to “subdue” the farmers. He added that instead of “arm-twisting”, Punjab farmers should be provided with incentives to switch their produce from paddy to corn and citrus.
“Modi Govt’s handling of Punjab protests by stopping all rail traffic is unwise. Can’t subdue Punjab farmers like this. It must work with Amarinder & restore confidence. Punjab farmer needs incentives to switch to corn & citrus from paddy. Arm-twisting will boomerang,” Gupta tweeted.
Modi Govt’s handling of Punjab protests by stopping all rail traffic is unwise. Can’t subdue Punjab farmers like this. It must work with Amarinder & restore confidence. Punjab farmer needs incentives to switch to corn & citrus from paddy. Arm-twisting will boomerang.— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta) November 9, 2020
In essence, there are two points that Shekhar Gupta has made in his tweet. Firstly, he believes that the Modi government should continue to operate the railways in Punjab amidst the looming threat of vandalism and attacks, despite the fact that several cases of assault on locomotive pilots have been reported in the state.
It would be incredibly unwise of the central government to run the railways business as usual even as farmers in Punjab have occupied the tracks and protesting against the government. Railways run the risk of being vandalised, attacked and delayed if the government heeds to Mr Gupta’s suggestions and continue operating the trains, in disregard of the threat posed by the agitation. The protests can take an ugly turn if the trains are allowed to operate even as agitating farmers continue to squat on the tracks.
What is also evident from Mr Gupta’s tweet is that the entire task of allaying the concerns of farmers is Modi government’s responsibility. He has conveniently passed the buck from Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh to the Modi government. While the central government does have a big say in the country’s agricultural policies, however, the state governments are also equally invested in ensuring the welfare of the farmers and therefore it is their responsibility as well to assuage the misgivings of the farmers in their state.
Besides, law and order are the state’s responsibility and if the Punjab government cannot stop the so-called ‘farmers’ from squatting on railway tracks and blocking the passage of trains, there is little that the railways can do here except to cancel the trains to prevent damages and vandalism.
Secondly, Gupta suggests that the government should offer incentives to Punjab farmers to shift from paddy farming. There is merit to the argument made by the Print founder here. Mr Gupta is not wrong when he advises the government to employ inducements to spur farmers away from growing paddy but such ideas cannot be the sole premise for restarting of railways through Punjab.
On the contrary, the state government is in charge of law and order and should convince the protestors not to block rail tracks and disrupt the movement of essential supplies. Or evict them if they still continue to squat. #IndianRailways cannot risk any damage to their assets. https://t.co/fc4M0SlDsH— Ananth Rupanagudi (@rananth) November 9, 2020
Initiatives such as offering incentives to the farmers to dissuade them from farming paddy can work on average days when the state is not roiled with agitations and protests. In the current scenario, the railways cannot afford to take the chance of operating in Punjab, where the farmers are occupying the tracks and risk being ransacked and attacked by the agitators. The reports of loco pilots getting assaulted in Punjab indicate how the situation can devolve if the railways are asked to resume their operations in Punjab.
Punjab Government’s inaction responsible for the current railway blockade
Furthermore, it is the responsibility of Captain Amarinder Singh’s government in Punjab to persuade the farmers into calling off their agitation and clear the railway tracks of squatting protestors. However, the fecklessness of the Punjab government, demonstrated in their lack of action to get the railway tracks cleared, suggests that the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress regime in the state views the festering of the issue as beneficial to its brand of politics.
Indian Railways has lost over Rs.500 crores in revenues due to the ‘Rail Roko’ agitation in Punjab. All Industries and Trade Forum president Badish Jindal said that the overall loss the state’s businesses have incurred is close to Rs.5000 crore as ‘farmers’ continue to block railway lines. From the steel industry to essential commodities, Punjab is facing a shortage of almost everything. Due to the inaction of the government of Punjab, power stations are unable to get coal for power generation leading to a severe shortage across the state.
High Court had rebuked the Punjab govt over failure to clear railway tracks
The Punjab and Haryana High Court has expressed its displeasure on the failure of the Punjab government to clear the railway tracks. The High Court had said on 29th October that the Punjab government is unable to handle law and order. The High Court had even stated that in case the government fails to get the tracks cleared, it will issue an order and write that the Punjab government has failed to follow the constitution. However, even a rap on the knuckles by the courts haven’t had the desirable effect of Punjab government pushing to end the imbroglio.
It is also pertinent to note that the Congress government in Punjab not only stoked rebellion among the farmers in the state against the central government but also staged protests against the centre for the passage of the three agricultural bills that were passed in September this year.
‘Rail Roko’ agitation started after the passage of three Agricultural Bills
The Rail Roko agitations in Punjab started in September, after which Railways suspended its services in the state stating security reasons. The services were resumed for a short span but again suspended as the government of Punjab failed to get the tracks cleared. In September, the Central government announced three new bills for the agriculture industry. These bills are aimed to remove the middlemen from the sale and purchase of the produce. However, opposition parties tried to paint the bills as an attempt to remove Minimum Selling Price (MSP) and alleged that the Modi government brought these bills to facilitate large players in the agriculture business. Captain Amrinder had tabled a resolution to bypass the new regulations.