NEW DELHI/CHANDIGARH, Nov 27 (PTI): Thousands of farmers gathered at various entry points into the national capital were allowed in on Friday to hold a peaceful protest at a north Delhi ground, defusing some of the tension building up since Friday morning around the city’s edges and beyond.
The concession came after hours of a standoff that saw police using teargas shells, water cannons and multi-layer barriers to block the protesters and the farmers pelting stones and breaking barricades in some places in their determination to push through as part of their ‘Delhi Chalo’ march against the Centre’s new farm laws.
“After holding discussion with farmer leaders, the protesting farmers have been permitted inside Delhi to hold peaceful protest at Nirankari Ground in Burari. We appeal to all farmers to maintain peace,” said Delhi Police PRO Eish Singhal.
At the Tikri border, farmers were escorted by police personnel amid tight security around 3 pm and taken towards the Nirankari Ground, one of the biggest in the city. But those gathered at the Singhu border, one of the main routes used to access the city from Punjab, had not entered the city till Friday evening.
As the issue snowballed, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said no government in the world can stop farmers fighting the “battle of truth”.
In a tweet in Hindi, Gandhi said the Prime Minister should remember that whenever arrogance takes on truth, it gets defeated. “The Modi government will have to agree to the demands of the farmers and take back the black laws. This is just the beginning!” he tweeted with the hashtag ‘IamWithFarmers’.
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh welcomed the Union government’s decision to allow the farmers to enter Delhi to exercise their democratic right to protest.
“They should also now initiate immediate talks to address farmers’ concerns on the #FarmLaws and resolve the simmering issue,” he said on Twitter.
Punjab farmer groups said Union Home ministry officials had allowed them a place in Delhi to hold the agitation.
“We have been allowed safe passage to Delhi,” claimed Krantikari Kisan Union president Darshan Pal.
Earlier in the day, clashes broke out at multiple places and Delhi’s borders resembled a virtual battle zone with restless crowds of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, milling around and a sea of police personnel keeping them at bay. Drones circled the air and plumes of smoke from teargas shells could be seen from far.
Beyond the border points, the tension spilled over on highways where groups of farmers squatted on the road, and stood in trucks and tractors, waiting impatiently to make their way into the national capital.
At the Singhu border,multi-layer barricading, including sand laden trucks and water cannons, was put up to block the farmers. Delhi Police used teargas to disperse farmers who had reached Singhu.
At Tikri, a few kilometres away, some farmers used a tractor to pull away a truck placed as a barricade to prevent them from entering the city. Water cannons were used against the farmers.
Hundreds of farmers from western Uttar Pradesh were also moving towards Delhi from Greater Noida to join the protest.
The Bharatiya Kisan Union had given the call to farmers from the region, including Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Baghpat, to come together for the’Delhi Chalo’ march.
“We have started our onward movement. But our route to Delhi is yet to be decided by our union leaders,” BKU state spokesperson Pawan Khatana told PTI.
Delhi Police, which had expressed concern over the pandemic situation in the city, had sought permission from the AAP government to use the city’s nine stadiums as temporary jails for farmers arrested or detained but this was denied.
Delhi home minister Satyendar Jain said every Indian citizen has the right to protest peacefully. In a letter to the principal home secretary, Jain said the Central government should accept the demands of farmers, adding that putting farmers in jails was not a solution.
As the farmers dug in their heels, police made announcements over loudspeakers asking them to retreat.
“We will enter Delhi. We will get these anti-farmer laws repealed. We were welcomed at the national capital by teargas shells lobbed by Delhi police,” said a farmer from Fatehgarh Sahib in Punjab who was among those who managed to reach the Singhu border.
Some farmers who had reached close to the Singhu border said they had taken night halts at various points and broken police barriers in Panipat, Haryana, about 100 km from Delhi. While a group of farmers from Punjab were the first to reach there some farmers from Haryana joined them later.
A farmer who had reached the Haryana-Delhi border point in Sonipat asked why they were stopped.
“Don’t we have a democratic right to protest in a peaceful manner? Farmers meet the food needs of the nation, but today the Centre is behaving as if we are terrorists and has put thousands of security personnel to stop our peaceful march,” he said.
Punjab farmers, representing over 30 farm bodies, had announced they will go to Delhi through several routes – Lalru, Shambhu, Patiala-Pehowa, Patran-Khanauri, Moonak-Tohana, Ratia-Fatehabad and Talwandi-Sirsa.
As the day progressed, so did the chaos on the roads leading to Delhi and at its border points.
Delhi Traffic posted a series of tweets asking people to avoid outer Ring Road, Mukarba Chowk, GTK road, NH-44 and Singhu Border saying traffic was “very, very heavy”.
Checking was also intensified at the city’s entryways, including at the Delhi-Gurgaon border, leading to massive jams. Authorities in Haryana imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC in several parts to prevent assembly of the protesters.
For those needing to commute from Delhi to NCR areas or from the suburbs to the city for work or other reasons, it was a tough day.
Delhi Metro authorities had earlier announced that services from neighbouring cities will remain suspended on Friday.
The farmers are demanding the repeal of the new farm laws, which, they said, should be replaced with another set of legislations framed after wider consultation with the stakeholders. They also want a guarantee on minimum support prices.