Column | Punjab's uneasy stand-off with the Centre

Column | Punjab's uneasy stand-off with the Centre
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Railway services to Punjab remain suspended for more than a month following a stand-off between Centre and the sensitive border state.

Centre and the Railways are wary about agitating farmers in the border state, who are being backed by both the ruling Congress and the opposition Akali Dal in Punjab.

Railway minister Piyush Goyal conceded that nearly 1,000 goods train services did not happen because authorities fear damage to Railway property.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh insists the situation is conducive for running trains, but the Narendra Modi government is punishing the state for questioning the right of central government and Parliament to make new laws in agricultural states, giving rise to fears among farmers.

The Punjab Government says there is already huge shortage of fertilisers – only two lakh tonnes are available while the state needs another ten lakh tonnes for the current agriculture season. Garments and other goods made in the industrial hubs of Punjab including Ludhiana, Jlandhar and Ropar are piled up in railways good sheds, along with foodgrain stocks in the wareheouses of both the Food Corporation of India and private storage operators.

Compared to goods trains, only 50 passenger trains have not been operated during the agitation period, according to Goyal.

Internal reports from the railway officials and central intelligence agencies to the Railway Board is that there are sporadic agitations in Amritsar district as well as outside FCI silos in Moga district.

During a review of the situation in Punjab by home minister Amit Shah, it was decided that the railways should resume operations to Punjab only when situation is absolutely normal.

The Delhi-Pathankot rail corridor is one of the busiest in the country humming with the movement of goods wagons carrying foodgrains and garments out of the state, while bringing consumer and industrial goods to the landlocked state.

The state government knows that until the rail and road agitation launched by the farmers organisations with its blessing is called off, train services will not be restored.

The Centre has said it cannot allow railway goods to be destroyed or detained by agitators, and the lives of railway staff cannot be put in danger.

The farmers organisations have also alleged that large number of trucks carrying essential goods for Punjab have been detained at the border city of Ambala in Haryana, a state ruled by the BJP. The Punjab Large Industrial Development Board has assessed that as raw material for industries were held up, losses for textile and engineering sectors were mounting.

The state's electricity plants are also facing a coal shortage, while onward transmission of goods to Jammu and Kashmir as well as western parts of Himachal Pradesh is being carried out through more expensive modes.

Two weeks ago, when riots broke out in the border villages of Assam and Mizoram over territorial disputes, the truck movement on either side of the border was halted for five days until both the state governments agreed to strictly enforce order.

But there is a trust deficit between the Centre and Punjab government.

Farmer organisations have announced resumption of rail roko later this week.

Since assembly elections are scheduled around the time of harvest of Rabi crop next April, the political stakes too are high for both the governments and the political parties in the state.

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