Punjab farmers continue rail blockade

October 30th, 2010 - 4:11 pm ICT by IANS  

Manmohan Singh Chandigarh, Oct 30 (IANS) Thousands of farmers Saturday continued blocking rail tracks at various places in the state to protest against slow procurement of paddy by central and state government agencies.

The farmers, who began the blockade Friday, are seeking relaxation of moisture and colour norms for procurement of their paddy, in addition to a higher minimum support price (MSP).

Heavy rains in September, when paddy is normally dried for harvesting, have led to higher moisture content and discoloration of the crop. Five procurement agencies of the Punjab government and the centre’s Food Corporation of India (FCI) are engaged in the procurement process at 1,710 centres across Punjab.

Nearly 50 trains have been affected in Ambala and Ferozepur divisions of Northern Railway due to the protests.

“Our operations have been adversely affected due to this farmers’ agitation. Yesterday, around 30 trains were either cancelled or delayed and Ambala division suffered a loss of over Rs.10 lakh,” G.M. Singh, commercial manager, Northern Railway (Ambala division), told IANS Saturday.

“We have again cancelled or diverted some trains today. We are still evaluating the situation, and right now we cannot comment on the exact number of affected trains,” Singh said.

Local and inter-state trains were stopped by farmers in Bathinda, Jalandhar, Amritsar and Mansa districts Saturday.

“Over 2,000 farmers are sitting on various railway lines between Jalandhar and Amritsar. Yesterday, 24 trains were affected and today at least 30 trains have been hampered. We have to run the trains from alternate and longer routes to avoid any untoward incident,” Vishvesh Chaube, divisional railway manager (DRM), Northern Railway (Ferozepur division), told IANS Saturday.

“The farmers are still squatting on rail tracks at various places. The situation is not clear and we are not sure when all the routes will be opened,” he added.

Seeking prompt action on relaxation in quality specifications, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal Friday requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his direct intervention in the matter.

Badal demanded that the moisture specification should be increased from 17 to 20 percent and discoloration of paddy up to 10 per cent.

Punjab and Haryana have procured over 10 million (100 lakh) tonnes of paddy this season, which commenced Oct 1.

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