New Delhi: Farmer organisations in Punjab are refusing to stop the agitation against the three central farm laws passed by Parliament in September, despite negotiations with the Narendra Modi government. And because of this agitation, the Indian Railways has had to cancel or terminate 1,987 passenger trains and 3,090 goods trains, according to railway ministry data reviewed by ThePrint.
For example, 43 passenger trains scheduled to run in Punjab on 17 and 18 November have been cancelled or terminated early, as have 203 freight trains — carrying coal, fertiliser and cement — scheduled to run on 16 November, Monday.
Railway ministry spokesperson D.J. Narain confirmed the numbers. “There are about 30-40 (passenger) trains being cancelled daily,” he said. “As of now, according to our data, 1,987 passenger trains have been cancelled due to the Punjab agitation… This is at a time when due to the festive season, the occupancy in passenger trains has been over 90 per cent.”
A railway ministry official told ThePrint: “While in the beginning of October, we were running about five-six special trains in Punjab, this number was scaled up as more special trains were announced throughout the country,” a railway ministry official told ThePrint.
Asked why passenger trains were being planned even amid the agitation against the farm laws, the anonymous official quoted above said: “Bookings cannot be stopped, even though the railways have to bear the losses in terms of the refunds to passengers.”
Officials also said the losses incurred by the railways due to the agitation were to the tune of Rs 1,670 crore.
Freight customers have switched to other modes of transportation due to the losses they have suffered because of train cancellations. Both outward and inward loading in Punjab have been affected, with an average loss being about 30 rakes (train-sets) per day.
In the face of the unending stalemate between the Centre and the agitating farmers on the new farm laws, negotiations were held last week, but despite seven hours of deliberations, there was no decision.
“In the meeting, it became clear that the demands of the farmers and the government’s position are far from a point of reconciliation, and can’t be resolved immediately. I am thankful that they came and I have requested them for more such discussions,” Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, who chaired the meeting, told news agency ANI after the meeting.
Railways spokesperson Narain said: “The Railways is very clear. For the sake of the safety of all, including the train drivers and station masters, we will not ply freight trains if passenger trains are blocked. The Railways would need assurance and confirmation from the state and the agitators that no train will be stopped.”
The next meeting between the Centre and farmer associations will be held on 18 November.