Farmers squatted on the tracks in Punjab on Thursday, beginning a three-day 'rail roko' agitation against the farm Bills as the Railways suspended several trains to avoid any untoward incident.
23 trains have been partially cancelled and five short terminated till September 26 as protesters blocked rail tracks at various places, including Amritsar, Ferozepur, Sangrur, Barnala, Mansa and Nabha.
Among the trains that will remain suspended are the Golden Temple Mail (Amritsar-Mumbai Central), Jan Shatabdi Express (Haridwar-Amritsar), New Delhi-Jammu Tawi, Karambhoomi (Amritsar-New Jalpaiguri), Sachkhand Express (Nanded-Amritsar) and Shaheed Express (Amritsar-Jaynagar), officials said.
They said the decision has been taken keeping in mind the safety of passengers and protection of railway property from any damage.
At present, routine passenger train service remains suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The call for the 'rail roko' agitation was given by the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee and later different farmers' outfits extended their support to it.
Activists of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) squatted on rail tracks in Barnala and Sangrur on Thursday morning.
Farmers under the banner of the committee sat on rail tracks near Devidaspura village in Amritsar and Basti Tanka Wali in Ferozepur.
They raised slogans against the BJP-led Union government and threatened to intensify their protest if the farm Bills were not taken back.
"These Bills were passed without consulting farmers and these are only in the interest of big corporates," said Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee general secretary Sarwan Singh Pandher in Amritsar.
"If these Bills are in the interest of farmers, then why BJP leaders are trying to give clarifications. It means they are not good for farmers," said Pandher.
He said they will continue their struggle against the Bills until they are revoked.
"It is going to be a long struggle," he added.
Pandher asked the Shiromani Akali Dal to clarify its stand on the bills.
"If they find these Bills as anti-farmer, then why are they still in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party," he asked.
The protesters dug up tents in the middle of the rail tracks. They also made arrangements for ration for three days, said farmers.
Women, youth and elders also took part in the protest, they said.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh said the Bills were drafted just to 'benefit' big corporates and demanded that they be 'withdrawn'.
Farmer leaders said they were getting support from several sections, including government employees and labourers.
Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee president Satnam Singh Pannu said they have appealed to representatives of political parties, ministers, MPs and MLAs not to take part in the farmers' agitation.
They vowed to gherao BJP leaders and socially boycott those who voted in favour of the farm Bills.
As many as 31 farmers' outfits have given a call for a complete shutdown of Punjab on September 25.
Farmers in Punjab have expressed apprehension that the Bills would pave a way for dismantling the minimum support price system, leaving them at the 'mercy' of big corporates.
Parliament has passed the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill; Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill; and Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill.
They await the President's nod to become laws.
Meanwhile, railway officials said the Nanded-Amritsar train will end its journey in Old Delhi. Train number 02716 will run from Old Delhi instead of Amritsar on September 25 and 26.
The Dhanbad-Ferozepur Cantt train will not go to Ferozepur Cantt and end its journey at Ambala Cantonment. Train number 03308 will run from Ambala Cantt from September 24 to 26 instead of Ferozepur Cantt.
The Mumbai Central-Amritsar train arriving on September 24 will be brought to Ludhiana and it will end its journey at Ambala from September 25 to 26.
Train number 02904 will run from Ambala from September 24 to 26 instead of Amritsar.
Many freight and parcel trains have also been rescheduled.
A Railways spokesperson in New Delhi said the agitation will severely impact loading of foodgrain and other essential goods.
Officials said the Food Corporation of India is daily loading over 35 rakes of foodgrain from Punjab.
They said Punjab also loads 9-10 rakes daily of fertiliser, cement, auto, mixed goods in containers.