Protest for flood relief: Police crackdown on farmer leaders, security stepped up in Punjab
This comes a day after a farmer died amid clashes between the protesters and the police personnel in Sangrur district
Security has been stepped up in Punjab and around 2,000 cops have been deployed at Chandigarh-Mohali border in wake of a call for protest by 16 farm unions in Chandigarh on Tuesday (August 22). This comes a day after a farmer died amid clashes between the protesters and the police personnel in Sangrur district.
The protest has been called by Kisan Mazdoor Sangarsh Committee along with other unions against non-payment of relief to the flood-affected in the state. Farm unions including the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Karanti kari), BKU (Ekta Azaad), Aazaad Kisan Committee, Doaba, BKU (Behramke) and the Bhoomi Bachao Muhim gave a call for protest to seek compensation for losses caused by floods.
Farmer leaders are demanding a package of Rs 50,000 crore from the Centre for damage caused due to the floods in the northern region, including Punjab. They are also demanding Rs 50,000 per acre compensation for crop loss, Rs 5 lakh for a damaged house and Rs 10 lakh compensation for the next of kin of those who lost their lives in floods.
Heavy police deployment
Anti-riot police and Punjab Armed Police personnel have been deployed in large numbers at Mohali-Chandigarh border. Police officials said 75 per cent of the district police force is out to maintain law and order in Mohali. Cops have been deployed in heavy numbers at all the entry, exit points of the district. Police pickets and check-posts have been set up at all vulnerable points in Mohali.
"Law and order will be maintained at all costs. Although the protest is in Chandigarh we are not taking any chances. No anti-social element will be allowed entry; if someone tries to create ruckus, police will act sternly," said a police official.
In Chandigarh, security personnel have been deployed at all entry and exit points to prevent farmers from entering. A heavy deployment of force has also been made at Shambhu in Ambala located on the Haryana-Punjab border. In Punjab’s Rajpura, barricades have been put up while anti-riot vehicles and a CCTV vehicle have also been deployed.
Farmer leaders detained
In view of their call for a tractor march to Chandigarh on Tuesday, the state government has launched a crackdown and detained several farmer leaders across Punjab in the last 24 hours.
Farmers claimed that several of their leaders, including Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC) president Sarwan Singh Pandher, Satkar Singh Kotli of the KMSC, Bohr Singh of the BKU (Behramke), had been “detained” by the Punjab police. Azad Kisan Committee Doaba president Harpal Singh Sangha alleged that the Punjab police raided his house on early Monday morning “without any warrant or court order” and the cops interrogated his wife and daughter to know his whereabouts.
Talking to The Federal, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Surjeet Singh Phool condemned the police bid to foil their protest march in Chandigarh by arresting various farmer leaders. He claimed that the leaders of 16 farmer unions held a meeting at the Punjab Governor’s office in Chandigarh on Monday, during which the Punjab police agreed to allocate them a venue to stage their protest peacefully. He alleged that the police backtracked from their promise and instead conducted raids to arrest prominent leaders of various farmer unions like Sarwan Singh Pandher. He said all the farmer bodies have held consultations in the aftermath of their arrest and decided to go ahead with the protest, irrespective of the prevailing situation. He also demanded that all the farmer leaders who have been arrested should be released without any delay.
Farmer leaders from neighbouring Haryana too claimed that some people associated with the Bharatiya Kisan Union have been detained by the police. The Haryana Police have detained BKU leader Amarjit Singh Mohari in Ambala, while Sandeep Singh has been detained in Kurukshetra. The Ambala police also deployed personnel along the Haryana-Punjab border to maintain law and order in the area.
Meanwhile, BKU (Shaheed Bhagat Singh) spokesperson Tejveer Singh alleged that the arrests were a work of a “joint operation” by the BJP government of Haryana and the AAP government of Punjab. “They never conducted a joint operation to stop drugs, neither did they conduct one to stop communal violence, but both the states came together to stop a farmers’ protest,” said the spokesperson of BKU SBS.
Farmer killed in protest
A day earlier, a farmer died after he was allegedly thrashed during a lathicharge by the Punjab police at Longowal in Sangrur district on Monday (August 21). However, the police claimed that he got crushed under a rashly driven tractor of the farm union activists. He was a part of the protesting farmers who were heading to Chandigarh for their protest, seeking compensation for the flood-affected in the state.
The Sangrur police took to Twitter to clarify: “Reg unfortunate death of a protester today at Longowal, it is clarified that as per witnesses & videos d deceased was overrun by a rashly driven tractor trolley by protesters, which also severely injured a police inspector who narrowly escaped from getting crushed. Our condolences.”
Sangrur Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Surendra Lamba said the members of the farmer union wanted to block the Sangrur-Barnala national highway and also the Badbar toll plaza, but the police forces tried to stop them. The farmers, however, forcibly removed the barricades using tractor-trolleys and buses, the SSP said. Some farmers rammed their vehicles into the barricades that led to a confrontation between the two sides. At least seven police personnel were also reported to have been injured in the clash.
Opposition slams AAP govt
Meanwhile, the Opposition parties, including the Congress, BJP and SAD, have slammed the AAP government for police action against the farmers.
Leader of Opposition Partap Singh Bajwa said, “Police brutality against farmers and innocent people of Punjab under the @AAPPunjab regime today reached a new level. A farmer, Pritam Singh, lost his life after the police resorted to lathicharge on farmers at Longowal…Now the onus is on Punjab CM @BhagwantMann, who holds the home portfolio. He must explain to the people who ordered the police to lathicharge farmers.”
Former Akali minister Dr Daljit Singh Cheema flayed the police action against farmer leaders, calling it “undemocratic.” Talking about the plight of farmers and arrest of farmer leaders, he tweeted, “Their condition is worsening day-by-day. At most places they have suffered twice but government has not paid compensation even for the first loss. There is no immediate help for those who had to leave their houses and are sitting in the open. But inspite of all this if they want to protest peacefully to highlight their sufferings, they have been arrested. This is inhumane. All of them should be released immediately.”
Punjab BJP chief Sunil Jakhar also lashed out at the chief minister, stating that “he is least bothered about Punjab”. He said it is a stigma for the state and the government, if any farmer died in the clash. “The matters like these should be handled sensitively, but the CM is least bothered,” he alleged.