‘Delhi Chalo’: Protesters start from Punjab; Union ministers begin talks with farmer leaders
Security personnel stand guard near Singhu Border ahead of the scheduled 'Delhi Chalo' march by the protesting farmers, in New Delhi. Photo: PTI

‘Delhi Chalo’: Protesters start from Punjab; Union ministers begin talks with farmer leaders

The borders of the national capital have been barricaded, while police personnel, water cannons and tear gas have been kept ready to tackle thousands of protesters marching towards Delhi

A team of Union ministers on Monday (February 12) evening began talks with farmer leaders in Chandigarh in a bid to dissuade them from their 'Delhi Chalo' march to press the Centre for enactment of a law on minimum support price for crops.

The delegation that includes Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Piyush Goyal and Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda, are holding a meeting with the farmer leaders at the Mahatma Gandhi State Institute of Public Administration in Sector 26 in Chandigarh. This is the second rounds of talks. The first meeting was held on February 8.

Meanwhile, tractor-trolleys carrying farmers have already set out from different parts of Punjab in response to the Delhi Chalo call given by over 200 farmer unions.

More than 200 farmer unions are expected to participate in the 'Delhi Chalo' march on Tuesday (February 13) to press the central government to accept their demands, including the enactment of a law to guarantee a minimum support price (MSP) for crops.

The farmer leaders, who will be part of the talks in Chandigarh, held a meeting in Amb Sahib in Punjab's Mohali before leaving for the city.

Haryana borders sealed

Authorities in Haryana have fortified the state's border with Punjab at many places in Ambala, Jind, Fatehabad, Kurukshetra and Sirsa using concrete blocks, iron nails and barbed wire to scuttle the proposed march.

The Haryana government has also imposed restrictions under section 144 of the CrPC in as many as 15 districts, prohibiting the assembly of five or more people and banning any kind of demonstration or march with tractor-trolleys.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non-Political) and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha have announced that more than 200 farm unions would head to Delhi on February 13.

Meanwhile, a petition was filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court on Monday against the sealing of borders and suspension of mobile internet services by the Haryana government.

The petitioner, Uday Partap Singh, sought directions from the court to stay all "obstructive" actions by the governments of Haryana and Punjab and the Centre against the farmers' protest, alleging that they infringe on the fundamental rights and are "unconstitutional".

The matter is expected to come up for a hearing on Tuesday.

Besides a legal guarantee for MSP, farmers are also demanding implementation of the Swaminathan Commission's recommendations, pensions for farmers and farm labourers, farm debt waiver, withdrawal of police cases and "justice" for victims of the Lakhimpur Kheri violence, reinstatement of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, withdrawal from the World Trade Organisation, compensation for families of farmers who died during the previous 2020 agitation, among others.

Farmers begin march, security tightened in Delhi

Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee general secretary Sarwan Singh Pandher said a convoy of tractor-trolleys set out in the morning from Beas in Amritsar to assemble in Fatehgarh Sahib district.

Many farmers from Moga, Bathinda and Jalandhar districts have also started from their villages to join the march.

SKM (Non-Political) leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal said tractor-trolleys will assemble at Fatehgarh Sahib district and Mehlan Chowk in Sangrur on Monday evening.

In the national capital, traffic restrictions have been put in place and security arrangements intensified at the Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri borders ahead of the march to prevent vehicles carrying protesters from entering the city.

The Haryana Police and the Chandigarh Police have already issued traffic advisories, asking commuters to take alternative routes.

Many leaders detained en route, allege farmers

Ahead of the meeting, farmers' leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal on Monday alleged that many agriculturists, who were coming from other states, including Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh, to support the 'Delhi Chalo' march, have been detained and sought their release.

Dallewal claimed that several farmers coming from Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka, owing allegiance to the SKM, have been detained in Bhopal.

"On one side, they (the Centre) are holding dialogues with us and on the other hand they are detaining our people. Then how will this dialogue take place?" SKM (Non-Political) leader Dallewal said.

"We have told the government that it should release our people. The government needs to create a positive atmosphere for dialogue," he said.

On the heavy security arrangements at various points of the Haryana-Punjab border, Dallewal said the government's "nervousness" is visible.

"These are not our demands, these are the government's commitments," he said.

Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij said that major issues can be resolved through dialogue. On the security measures, he said that "we will do what is necessary to ensure the safety of our state's people and maintain peace".

The Bharti Kisan Union (Doaba), which is part of the SKM, on Monday announced its support to the 'Delhi Chalo' march.

The SKM had spearheaded the 2020 agitation against the now-repealed farm laws. But this time, it is staying away from the 'Delhi Chalo' call of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non-Political) and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha.

Several farmer bodies like BKU (Charuni), BKU (Ekta Ugrahan), BKU (Lakhowal), and BKU (Rajewal) are not part of the Delhi Chalo protest.

The farmers have planned to head to Delhi from the Ambala-Shambhu border, Khanauri-Jind and the Dabwali border.

Concrete barricades, tear gas, water cannons await protesters

At the Shambhu border near Ambala, authorities have filled the space between the barricades with cement in order to further strengthen it.

Near the Shambhu border, iron sheets have been installed along the two sides of the road on the Ghaggar flyover to prevent protesters from throwing police barricades off it. Water cannons and Vajra vehicles have been stationed and the Ghaggar river bed below has been dug up.

Police have also made elaborate arrangements at Haryana's borders with Punjab in Jind, Fatehabad, Kurukshetra and Sirsa districts.

Police also conducted mock drills with tear gas and water cannons at many places to prevent farmers from heading towards Delhi.

The Haryana Police has deployed 50 companies of paramilitary forces along with state police personnel in the state.

Internet services and bulk SMS in seven districts – Ambala, Kurukshetra, Kaithal, Jind, Hisar, Fatehabad and Sirsa – have been suspended till February 13.

In 2020, a large number of farmers from Punjab and nearby areas of Ambala gathered at the Shambhu border and broke police barriers to march towards Delhi.

The farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, held a year-long protest on Delhi's border points – Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur – against the three now-repealed farm laws.

(With inputs from agencies)

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