Chandigarh/New Delhi, Feb 13 (PTI) Farmers from Punjab clashed with Haryana Police at two border points between the states on Tuesday, facing tear gas and water cannons as they tried to break past barricades blocking their protest march to the national capital.
Police lobbed tear gas shells – some of them dropped from a drone – and tried to disperse groups of stone-pelting protesters in the face-off that last several hours at Shambhu border near Ambala in Haryana.
Haryana Police hurled tear gas canisters against the ‘Delhi Chalo’ protesters at the border in state’s Jind district as well. Water cannons too were deployed there.
Seven police personnel, including a deputy superintendent of police, were brought to the Ambala government hospital. Some farmers are also reported hurt.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non-Political) and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha are spearheading the ‘Delhi Chalo’ agitation to put pressure on the Centre for their demands, including a law on minimum support price for crops and loan waivers.
In an interview with PTI, Union Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda, however, said a law guaranteeing MSP cannot be brought in a hurry without consulting all stakeholders. He urged farmer groups to have a structured discussion with the government on the issue.
Munda and Union Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Piyush Goyal had held last-ditch talks with farmer bodies in Chandigarh on Monday night. But the five-hour meeting remained inconclusive.
The Punjab and Haryana High court Tuesday issued notices to the Centre and the states of Haryana and Punjab, on two separate petitions linked to the march.
One of the petitioners sought directions from the court to stay all "obstructive" actions by the two state governments and the Centre. The other pleaded for directions to ensure no highway is blocked by the protesters.
A large group of farmers, including women, packed in tractor-trolleys left about 10 am Tuesday from Punjab’s Fatehgarh Sahib, about 40 km from the border with BJP-ruled Haryana.
An excavator was a part of one convoy, with a farmer in Amritsar saying it would be used to break barricades.
Police barriers have been put up at several places in Haryana on the highway to Delhi.
And at major entry points to the capital, the Delhi Police has installed layers of similar barriers that include barbed wire, concrete slabs and tyre-bursting strips on the road.
The “fortification” of Delhi reminded many of the farmers’ agitation for the repeal of the Centre’s agri-marketing laws in 2021. The protesters had then blockaded the main roads leading into Delhi for months.
Though the protesters were nowhere near the city, traffic crawled at a snail's pace at many places in the Delhi-NCR region because of the barricades regulating access to key roads. This was apart from the barriers at Singhu and Tikri borders.
On Tuesday, there was no significant movement by Haryana farmers to join the march. Punjab protesters claimed the farmers there were intimidated by the Haryana government.
At the Shambhu border, Haryana policemen first used tear gas when some protesters broke a metal barricade and tried to throw it off the Ghaggar river bridge.
Protesters also used tractors, trying to shift heavy concrete barriers. Many of them dispersed into the fields adjoining the highway, apparently to circumvent the roadblock. They too faced tear gas shells.
Tear gas smoke enveloped the entire area. Protesters were seen covering fallen canisters with jute bags to contain the tear smoke.
A drone was spotted dropping shells over the protesters at Shambhu.
A Haryana Police spokesperson said tear gas was used to control the situation when stones were pelted at police personnel.
"No one will be allowed to create a disturbance. Those doing so will be dealt with strictly," the spokesperson said.
In another face-off, police lobbed teargas shells and used water cannons at the main border point in Jind. The farmers were trying to cross barricades installed at Data Singhwala-Khanauri border.
Authorities in Haryana have fortified the state's borders with Punjab at places in Ambala, Jind, Fatehabad, Kurukshetra and Sirsa to scuttle the march.
Riot control vehicles, including water cannons, are stationed at several places. Drones are being used to keep an eye on the protesters.
The Haryana government has imposed restrictions on the assembly of people under section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in 15 districts.
Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee leader Sarwan Singh Pandher slammed the heavy barricading on the road to Delhi.
"It does not seem Punjab and Haryana are two states. It seems they have an international border," he told reporters at Fatehgarh Sahib before the march began.
Lashing out at the Manohar Lal Khattar government, Pandher said Haryana has been turned into "Kashmir Valley." In Haryana, 64 companies of paramilitary personnel and 50 from the state police were deployed across the districts.
"We will not indulge in any confrontation with the government. The government may fire bullets or lathi-charge us. Jawans of police and paramilitary forces are also our brothers," Pandher had said, claiming that their march would be peaceful.
Following a second round of talks with the Centre late on Monday, he had said, "We do not think the government is serious about any of our demands. We do not think they want to fulfil our demands.” However, Union Agriculture Minister Munda, said, “In the two rounds of discussions, we agreed to many of their demands. But there was no agreement on certain issues. The talks are still on." PTI CHS VSD DV RPA ANB LUX MJH ANZ TRB ANU BM SLB NIT ABU IJT ASH ASH