Train services to Punjab will only be restored after the state government assures safety and security of railway property and personnel and clears the tracks of all agitators, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal said on Thursday. He earlier met leaders of both the BJP and Congress in separate delegations, where they sought Goyal's intervention in resuming train services in the state saying the suspension was having an adverse effect on Punjab's economy.
"The Railways is ready to begin operations in Punjab provided the state government gives us an assurance of safety of trains and clears tracks of protestors," Goyal said in a tweet. Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, in a letter handed over to Goyal personally by MPs, assured safety and security of railway property and personnel.
"The state government stands fully committed towards ensuring the safety and security of railway properties in Punjab. It is pertinent to mention that there has been no incident of arson or damage to rail property during the current farmers' agitation," Amarinder Singh said in his letter.
"We will deploy adequate police and security personnel along with RPF during day and night to ensure full protection to railway personnel and property," the CM further said, urging the Railway minister to restore rail traffic in Punjab. Railway Board Chairman V K Yadav said Punjab government has given an assurance that all blockades on rail premises by protesters will be cleared by Friday.
Heated discussions marked a meeting between Congress Lok Sabha MPs from Punjab and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal over the restoration of train traffic in the state, with four of them staging a walkout over the minister's remarks.
Sources said four of the eight Congress MPs -- Gurpreet Singh Aujla, Ravneet Singh Bittu, Santokh Choudhary and Mohammed Sadique -- walked out after tempers flared over Goyal accusing the Congress government in Punjab of "provoking and aiding farmers" to protest against the Central government's farm laws, that led to disruption of rail traffic.
The four Congress MPs who stayed back at the meeting were Preneet Kaur, Manish Tewari, Amar Singh and Jasbir Singh Gill. The BJP delegation that met him included Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, party national general secretary Tarun Chug, spokesperson R P Singh and Punjab unit president Ashwani Sharma.
In a letter to the railway minister, Sharma alleged that the Congress government held Punjab "under siege" and was playing politics over the issue. "We request immediate redressal by your august office to take a undertaking from the state government for security and protection to start goods and passenger trains with immediate effect. The common man is reeling under a great economic stress," he said.
Sharma also said shortage of fertilisers and pesticides was causing a huge problem for the agriculture sector. "This letter is to bring to your notice the dire circumstances being forced on Punjabis as the Congress government (in the state) is busy sponsoring the agitation in the name of farmers," he alleged.
BJP's state president Sharma also requested that the Punjab chief minister be immediately asked to give assurance that the railway blockades will be cleared and goods and passenger trains start with immediate effect. Goyal told the delegation that the railways was ready to start operations in the state provided an assurance is given by the state government about the security of its personnel.
Congress' Punjab MPs Pratap Singh Bajwa and Shamsher Singh Dullo also separately met Goyal and handed him a letter in which they said rail services must resume at the earliest. Otherwise, the safety and security of Punjab as well as that of the Armed Forces and civilians living in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh will be negatively impacted, they said.
"Due to suspension of operations of the Railways, our farmers and the larger economy of Punjab will be irrevocably damaged," the Congress MPs said, adding that all three private thermal power plants in Punjab have shut down operations due to the lack of availability of coal.
Train services have remained suspended for over a month in the state due to the agitation by farmer groups against three farm reform laws passed by Parliament recently. The national transporter has said it has already suffered losses due to this to the tune of Rs 1,200 crore.
The three farm laws -- the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 -- were enacted recently.
Farmers' bodies protesting the laws have expressed apprehension that these would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the "mercy" of big corporate entities. They demand that the laws be withdrawn.