Farmers protesting over the non-payment of sugarcane dues for the past four days here blocked the second side of the Jalandhar-Ludhiana stretch of the national highway on Friday.
Roads leading to Hoshiarpur, Nawanshahr and Nakodar were also blocked by parking tractors, leading to traffic problems.
The authorities had to divert traffic on alternative routes.
Police personnel in large numbers were deployed and water cannons stationed near the protest site.
Earlier, the protesters had blocked one portion of Jalandhar-Ludhiana national highway while protesting over the delay in the payment of their dues amounting to Rs 72 crore by a sugar mill here.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) after a meeting here Friday afternoon served an ultimatum on the Punjab government, asking it to either clear the dues till August 25 or face an intensified stir in the form of a massive morcha in Phagwara.
The farmers had started their indefinite protest near the sugar mill on Monday under the banner of the Bharti Kisan Union (Doaba).
“Since the Punjab government has taken our protest lightly, we blocked the other side of the national highway at 10 am today,” said BKU (Doaba) president Manjit Singh Rai.
However, ambulances, school buses and other emergency vehicles were allowed to pass, said farmer body’s general secretary Satnam Singh Sahni. Rai and Sahni said they will not budge till Rs 72 crore was transferred into the accounts of farmers.
Farmers, who had been protesting for the payment of sugarcane arrears, had on Thursday lifted the road blockade from a section of the national highway here due to Raksha Bandhan.
The protesters had warned that they will intensify their stir and block both sides of the highway from Friday if their demand is not met.
An official statement in Chandigarh quoting Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann said the state government is committed to clear all pending arrears, which will be paid by September 7.
Mann said even private sugar mills, except the Phagwara sugar mill, have assured that they will clear the arrears by September 7.
The official statement said the state government had on Thursday released Rs 100 crore to sugarcane farmers and this was deposited in their bank accounts on Friday.
The chief minister said with this payment, cooperative sugar mills in the state have already paid Rs 526.27 crore to farmers.
Mann said his government is making sincere efforts to ensure that pending payments to farmers are made soon. Addressing a joint press conference, SKM leaders said earlier Punjab Finance Minister Harpal Singh Cheema had assured to arrange a meeting with the chief minister, which was not done.
They said later a meeting was held with the Punjab agriculture minister in Mohali but that too did not help resolve the matter.
The government should take the Phagwara mill into its own hands and sell its property for clearing farmers’ arrears, they said.
Meanwhile, the Punjab government withdrew the letter of open auction of the Phagwara Sugar mill property and directed the Kapurthala deputy commissioner to expedite direct registry of the property by taking into loop mill owners, farmers and buyers. This was disclosed by Punjab Agriculture Minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal after a two-hour-long meeting with farmers’ representatives and senior officials here late Friday evening.
Admitting that the open auction letter had become a bone of contention and angered farmers, the minister said the state government had done so in hope of getting more amount from the property in this way. But now we have withdrawn the letter and a copy of it by the Punjab financial commissioner (Revenue) was handed over to farmers, he said. Claiming that the Bhagwant Mann government stands behind farmers like a rock, the minister said the government will not allow the management to shut the mill.
“We will initiate legal action for taking it over and running it but if there were some legal hurdle, we will sell cane of farmers to other mills,” he said. He urged farmers to lift their indefinite dharna and road blockade. However, Manjit Singh Rai, said that they will hold a meeting on Saturday to discuss the letter and take further course of action accordingly.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)