Bharat Bandh: Farmers block highways, roads in Punjab, Haryana; rail services hit

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Chandigarh, Mar 26 (PTI) Farmers blocked national highways and other key roads at many places in Punjab and Haryana, and squatted on railway tracks at several locations disrupting road and rail traffic as part of their nationwide protest against the Centre's new agri laws.

According to the Samkyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), which is spearheading the farmers' stir, Bharat Bandh is being observed from 6 am to 6 pm to mark four months of the farmers' agitation at Delhi's three borders -- Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri.

Shops remained closed at several places in Punjab. At a few places in Haryana too shops were shuttered in support of the Bharat Bandh.

Public and private transport remained off the roads in Punjab.

In neighbouring Haryana, State Transport Minister Moolchand Sharma told PTI that Haryana Roadways bus services will be suspended in those districts where it is felt that it is not conducive to operate them in view of the farmers' protest.

'Bus services are otherwise functional in Haryana,' he said.

Since morning, farmers in the two states gathered at several highways and roads, including in Bathinda, Ludhiana, Amritsar, Patiala, Mohali, Rohtak, Ferozepur, Pathankot, Jhajjar, Jind, Panchkula, Kaithal, Yamunanagar and Bhiwani districts.

Farmer union leaders said they were allowing ambulances and other emergency vehicles as well as marriage processions to pass.

In view of the 'Holla Mohalla' festival at Sri Anandpur Sahib, vehicles carrying devotees were being allowed to commute. The protesters have even arranged 'langar' for the devotees at the protest sites.

Haryana BKU leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni, in a video message on Friday, appealed to the protesting farmers to ensure the smooth passage of essential supplies or even sick persons travelling in private vehicles or those travelling in neighbouring areas.

'We have to protest peacefully,' Chaduni said.

The Bharat Bandh had its effect on rail services in Punjab and Haryana.

Protesters squatted on railway tracks at several locations, including in Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Ferozepur, Ambala, Jind, Jhajjar, Panchkula and some other districts in the two states, leading to disruption of rail traffic.

Some of the protesters blocked the Ambala-Delhi highway near Ambala Cantonment badly affecting the service on the route.

A group of protesters squatted on railway tracks near Shahpur village, around five kilometres from Ambala Cantonment, due to which all the trains running between Delhi and Saharanpur were stranded, railway officials said.

At Karnal railway station, the New Delhi-Katra Vande Bharat Express was stranded due to blockade by farmers in Ambala.

'Due to the pandemic, one is going through difficult times. Now, to remain stranded at a railway station for hours with small children is quite difficult. Trains on this route should have been cancelled for today to avoid passenger inconvenience,' said a woman passenger travelling with her two children.

The agitating farmers blocked several key roads, including Chandigarh-Delhi, Amritsar-Delhi, Hisar-Delhi and Bhiwani-Delhi national highways. They parked their tractors and other vehicles in the middle of the carriageways.

They also blocked the Ambala-Rajpura Highway on the Haryana-Punjab border near Shambhu barrier, and the Ambala-Hisar Highway near Ambala City.

The protesters, many of them carrying placards, squatted on key roads and raised slogans against the BJP-led government at the Centre. There were sit-ins at toll plazas in several places.

In Amritsar district, a group of farmers held a shirtless protest and raised slogans demanding the repeal of the farm laws. In Ludhiana, Punjab's industrial hub, some markets including on Gill Road, Ghumar Mandi, Clock Tower, cloth market and Akal Market remained shut while in Mohali too most markets were closed. Traffic on national highways passing through Haryana, including Ambala and Chandigarh, was comparatively less as many avoided travelling during the Bandh hours. However, at many places, long queues of trucks and other heavy vehicles could be seen on roads.

Police personnel were deployed in adequate strength to maintain law and order, officials said.

Farmer leaders in the state appealed to shopkeepers and traders to keep their shutters down during the bandh. Several unions representing commission agent also extended their support to the protest.

The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, an apex gurdwara body, has also announced to keep its offices and institutions closed for the day.

Earlier, in view of the Bharat Bandh, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of protesting farmers' unions, appealed to the protesters to remain peaceful.

Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have been camping at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur, with their main demand being complete repeal of the three farm laws and a legal guarantee for the minimum support price on their crops.

So far, there have been 11 rounds of talks between the protesting unions and government, but the deadlock has continued as both sides have stuck to their stand.

In January, the government had offered to suspend the farm laws for 12-18 months, which was rejected by the farmer unions. PTI SUN CORR VSD NSD