Farmers’ protest derails Samjhauta, passengers suffer (News Analysis)

Amritsar (Punjab), Oct 13 (IANS) The six-day old ‘rail roko’ (railway blockade) agitation by farmers near here has had an unlikely fallout – it has led to the stalling of the peace train, Samjhauta Express, between India and Pakistan and precipitated a diplomatic row between both the countries.

Agitating farmers have blocked the Amritsar-Jalandhar-Delhi railway track since October 7, forcing railway authorities in India to cancel the Samjhauta Express train.

They are demanding compensation of Rs.40,000 per acre for loss of cotton crop due to whitefly pest attack, purchase of basmati rice at minimum support price, and immediate release of payments to sugarcane growers.

Passengers from both the countries have been stranded on either sides. After waiting for the train service to resume, many of them have been forced to walk back into India and Pakistan on Monday.

Immigration officials in Attari, the last village on the Indian side along the international border with Pakistan, 30 km from here, said that 72 passengers from Pakistan crossed into India on foot on Monday after the Samjhauta train remained cancelled.

About 30 Pakistani nationals also left for their country on Monday on foot through the Attari-Wagah joint check post between both countries.

The bi-weekly train runs between Lahore and Attari stations on Monday and Thursday. On the Indian side, the Samjhauta Express link train connects Attari with Delhi.

“It is the link train that the railway authorities have cancelled. Since the train cannot take passengers coming from Pakistan side to Delhi, the actual Samjhauta has also been cancelled in the past nearly one week,” a railway official at Attari told IANS.

Last week, the Pakistan foreign office summoned the Indian Deputy High Commissioner in Islamabad, S. Raghuram, and expressed concern over the train cancellation.

In New Delhi, external affairs ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup, replying to the Pakistani concern, said that the Samjhauta Express had to be cancelled “due to a local agitation, including railway blockade”.

Indian Railway authorities had informed their Pakistani counterparts in advance that the train would not be able to run in such a situation,” Swarup said, adding that the Indian High Commission in Islamabad was in touch with the Pakistan government to extend help to stranded passengers.

The ‘rail roko’ agitation by farmers in Punjab continued for the sixth day on Monday as farmers blocked rail traffic at several places in Amritsar, Moga, Mansa and other districts.

Over 800 trains, including the Samjhauta Express peace train between India and Pakistan, have been cancelled or diverted by railway authorities.

Thousands of passengers have been left stranded due to cancellation of trains. The loss to the railways and other agencies is said to be over Rs.100 crore in these six days.

Talks of farmers’ organisations with Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh on Monday evening failed to produce any results.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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