Bharat Bandh against farm laws impacts life in pockets, roads and tracks blocked in some parts

Bharat Bandh against farm laws impacts life in pockets, roads and tracks blocked in some parts
A protester disturbs the traffic during farmers' 'Bharat Bandh' against the central government's three farm reform laws, in Patna, Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. PTI

New Delhi: Life in parts of India, particularly Haryana, Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh, was disrupted on Monday as a nationwide shutdown against three agri laws got underway with protesters blocking highways and key roads, and squatting on railway tracks in some places.

The Bharat Bandh, called by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 40 farm unions, marks one year since President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the three controversial laws and 10 months since thousands of farmers set up camp at Delhi's border points to voice their protest.

The bandh is in effect from 6 am to 4 pm.

Though much of the country was unaffected, commuters in north India felt the pinch with trains being cancelled or delayed and massive traffic snarls that prevented cross border movement. This particularly impacted the Delhi-NCR region, including the satellite towns of Gurgaon, Ghaziabad and Noida, with many thousands crossing borders each day to go to work or study.

Public transport was hit in Kerala where the strike is supported by the ruling LDF and the opposition Congress-led UDF. KSRTC bus services were off the road with almost all trade unions in the state taking part. People who had to travel opted for private modes of transport while others stayed home.

Farmers block a road at Ghazipur border during their 'Bharat Bandh' against central government's three farm reform laws, in New Delhi, Monday, Sep 27, 2021. PTI

Union leaders, including INTUC state president R Chandrasekharan, had said the shutdown would be peaceful and there would be no blocking of vehicles or forced shutting down of shops.

Protests were also seen in West Bengal where the Left Front backed the call for a shutdown. Images from Kolkata showed protesters swarming a section of a railway track. Similar images came in from West Midnapore with Left Front supporters blocking the IIT Kharagpur-Hijri railway line.

In the national capital, autorickshaws and taxis plied normally and shops were open with unions and associations extending only "in-principle support" to the Bharat Bandh called by farmers.

However, there was chaos at the city's borders, including at Ghazipur in western Uttar Pradesh where farmers blocked the highway to prevent any movement of vehicles. Not far away in Sonipat in Haryana, some farmers squatted on tracks. In nearby Patiala in Punjab, too, members of the BKU-Ugrahan sat on the tracks to register their protest.

A view of a deserted bus stand after the authorities imposed restrictions under section 144 to prevent protests across the city, during farmers' 'Bharat Bandh' against central government's three farm reform laws, in Agartala, Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. PTI

Punjab saw a complete shutdown in many places, including Moga, where farmers blocked the Moga-Ferozepur and Moga-Ludhiana national highways. Farmer leaders from Punjab have, in many ways, spearheaded the year-long protest.

#I Stand With Farmers & appeal the Union Govt. to repeal the three anti-farmer laws. Our farmers have been struggling for their rights since more than a year & it is high time that their voice is heard. I request the farmers to raise their voice in a peaceful manner (sic), Punjab's new chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi said in a tweet.

And in neighbouring Haryana, highways in Sirsa, Fatehabad and Kurukshetra were blocked.

There were also reports of farmers squatting on rail tracks at a few places in the two states.

Down south, in Karnataka, the shutdown did not have any major impact in the initial few hours with all business and establishments functioning normally and transport services available. However, farmers' attempts to organise a 'Rasta Roko' at major national and state highways led to disruption in vehicular movement in several parts of the state, especially in the capital Bengaluru.

In Guwahati, activists of the Socialist Unity Centre of India took out a protest march.

Members of the United Kisan Morcha block the railway tracks during their Bharat Bandh strike, at Sonipat railway station, Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. PTI

All emergency establishments and essential services, including hospitals, medical stores, relief and rescue work and people attending to personal emergencies have been exempted from the strike.

Expressing support for the farmers, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said their non-violent 'satyagraha' is still resolute but the "exploitative" government does not like this and that is why a 'Bharat Bandh' has been called.

Posting rhyming lines in Hindi on Twitter, Gandhi said, "Kisano ka ahimsak satyagraha aaj bhi akhand hai, lekin shoshankar sarkar ko ye nahi pasand hai, isliye aaj Bharat Bandh hai (Farmers' non-violent satyagraha is resolute even today, but the exploitative government does not like this and that's why it is Bharat Bandh today)."

Gandhi used the hashtag 'IStandWithFarmers' with his tweet.

The Congress has asked its workers, state unit chiefs and heads of frontal organisations to take part in the 'Bharat Bandh.

Many non-NDA parties have extended support to the nationwide 10-hour strike. These include the Aam Aadmi Party, Samajwadi Party, Telugu Desam Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, Left parties and Swaraj India. The YSR Congress government in Andhra Pradesh has also announced support to the Bharat Bandh.

The SKM on Sunday had appealed for complete peace during the bandh and urged all Indians to join the strike.

An overcrowded train as train services get affected during farmers' Bharat Bandh against central government's three farm reform laws, in Patna, Monday, Sept. 27, 2021. PTI

It is a day to express support to the annadatas (farmers) of the country, the ones who keep all Indians alive, it said in a statement.

The government and farmer unions have held 11 rounds of talks so far, the last being on January 22, to break the deadlock and end the farmers' protest.

Talks have not resumed following widespread violence during a tractor rally by protesting farmers on January 26.

The three laws - The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020 - were passed by Parliament in September last year.

Farmer groups have alleged that these laws will end the 'mandi' and the MSP procurement systems and leave the farmers at the mercy of big corporates. The government has rejected these apprehensions as misplaced and asserted that these steps will help increase farmer income.

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