A day ahead of their talks with the Centre, farmers protesting against the three farm laws took out a tractor march on the two ring highways around the Capital on Thursday.
According to farm union leaders, nearly 3,000 tractors participated in the march on Kundli-Manesar-Palwal or Western Peripheral expressway and at least 500 on the Kundli-Ghaziabad-Palwal or Eastern Peripheral expressway. Together, the two expressways form a ring around Delhi and were constructed to keep non-destined traffic away from Delhi in view of the rising air pollution.
With speakers mounted on tractors playing songs of resistance, the protesters from the Singhu border had started the rally towards the other protest site at the Tikri border and vice-versa at 11 am. The farmers took a U-turn from the Kharkhauda-Bahardurgarh exit on the expressway around 1pm and returned to their protest sites by the evening.
The tractor march in western UP began from the UP Gate at 9.30am. They drove on the inner lanes of the Delhi-Meerut expressway (DME) for about one hour to reach the EPE’s Dasna interchange (about 23 km). The farmers had earlier planned that from the Dasna interchange they would move to EPE up to Palwal. However, they cut the route short and went up to the Sirsa toll near Dankaur in Gautam Budh Nagar and returned to the UP Gate by 5.30pm.
In Nuh district of Haryana, some farmers alleged that they were prevented from joining the rally. The protesters, along with local residents. They marched within the district.
The protesters said Thursday’s march was just a trailer of their planned march on the Republic Day, if the government would not accept their demands.
Jasbinder Kaur, 65, a resident of Fatehgarh Sahib in Punjab, rode on a tractor to participate in the rally. “My kids said that it would not be suitable for me to ride a tractor on a highway in this cold weather, but I insisted on joining them. I am here to fight for my future generations and will not return till these three black laws are revoked. It’s just a trailer. The picture will be released on January 26, when we all will march towards India Gate,” she said.
Amarpreet Kaur, 18, said she has been attending the protest at the Tikri border for the last 40 days. “My father had died by suicide three years ago after he failed to repay a loan of Rs 6 lakh. We have been struggling to survive since then. I wanted to go to a good college in a big city like any other girl but I had to stay back in the village to help my mother in farming. The government wants to rob us of a small land left with us. It’s a dress rehearsal today. But it’s not even close to what will happen on 26 January. Thousands of farmers are joining us for the tractor march to India Gate that day,” she said.
Many women were also seen riding the tractors during the rally. Among them was Harinder Bindu, a member of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan). She said, “We want to tell the government that we are ready for as long as it takes. It will be better if the government listens to our demand at the earliest. We are living on highways in this biting cold. Who likes to live like this?”
Farmer leaders said they received “overwhelming” support on Thursday. “Hundreds of tractors had joined us from Punjab and Haryana during the rally. Many of them did not go back and joined us at Singhu and Tikri to participate in the January 26 march to India Gate. The government should understand the range of our protest and accept our demands,” said Harinder Singh Lakhowal, general secretary of BKU (Punjab).
Farmers camping at Burari ground also took out a tractor march.
Officials of the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) said they had to close the EPE for traffic in the wake of the rally.
“The regular commuter traffic faced disruptions at the DME when tractors drove to Dasna from UP-Gate in morning and also when the returned back to UP-Gate. Further, we had to stop traffic on the entire EPE stretch till the time it was occupied by tractors. As per the MoRTH guidelines, no tractors were allowed on EPE. But they came. We had written to the district authorities on Wednesday about this but our EPE traffic was still disrupted,” said Mudit Garg, project director of NHAI.
Gaurav Tikait, national president of youth wing of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), who is leading the protests at UP Gate, said, “ It was not a ‘shakti pradarshan’ (show of strength) before the talks scheduled with the government on Friday. It was aimed at consolidating our collective fight and to meet other groups who are protesting at different sites,” Tikait said.
Police and paramilitary personnel were deployed on the expressways to ensure law and order. No untoward incident was reported from any spot.
A senior Delhi Police officer said, “The situation remained peaceful in the Capital. No untoward incident was reported.”
With inputs from Peeyush Khandelwal and HT’s Gurugram bureau.