CHANDIGARH: There was plenty of action on the Punjab-Haryana interstate border on Thursday with Punjab farmers beginning their two-day Delhi Chalo agitation, as they broke through barricades on the Haryana side and pushed ahead despite the police using water cannons and tear gas to stop their onward march.
The face-off at all entry points along the interstate border was anticipated, as Haryana has a BJP-led coalition government, and the Delhi Chalo agitation is against a bunch of farm laws the Modi government at the Centre steamrolled in Parliament.
To start with, farmers broke the barricading at the Shambhu interstate border near Ambala on the Amritsar-Delhi National Highway after the police fired tear gas shells and used water cannons to disperse them, but to no effect.
The agitators threw some barricades into the nearby Ghaggar river and made their way into Ambala, pushing trucks aside despite heavy deployment of security personnel, including the Rapid Action Force.
After crossing Ambala, they broke police barricades near Tyora village in Kurukshetra, again making water cannons look like toy pistols.
At multiple points on the interstate border, Haryana had placed boulders, heavy barricades and even parked trucks bang in the middle of highways to prevent the farmers’ march.
Similarly, at the Tukar border of Pehowa in Kurukshetra, Punjab farmers broke open the barricades, throwing some of them into the Markanda river, to enter Haryana though the water cannons were firing away.
As the farmers moved forward, they were involved in a face-off with the police. A few of them on both sides were injured in the scuffle and were taken to a nearby hospital. The scene was similar in Kaithal in Haryana.
Police had placed cement and steel barricades and parked trucks on the road to stop the farmers' tractor-trolleys, some of them laden with food for the planned two-day protest, which many felt could extend further.
But a few hours later, at most border-points, the farmers were let through.
At Shambhu, a few protesters initially managed to cross the barricades on foot.
Later, police eased the blockade, allowing the tractors to proceed on the road to Delhi, 200 km away.
On the Dabwali and Khanuari border, famers dug in their heels and laid a siege. Farmers belonging to the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugarhan faction) decided to stage a protest there for a week.
There were traffic snarls during the day at Delhi's border with police checking vehicles coming in from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
Metro services between Delhi and NCR areas were restricted.
Haryana Police chief Manoj Yadava said his force acted with "great restraint".
Protesters hurled stones at many places, the DGP said in a statement.
"In this entire episode, not only a number of police personnel were injured, but police and private vehicles were also damaged."
In Karnal, a farmer was injured when a teargas shell hit him.
No arrests were reported.
At the Punjab-Haryana Shambhu border, police and Punjab farmers in their tractor-trolleys were locked in a confrontation for a couple of hours in the morning.
Police made announcements on loudspeakers asking the farmers assembled on the Punjab side to disperse.
But as protesters tried to push through barricades, the Haryana Police used a water cannon and lobbed teargas shells.
Farmers chucked some steel barricades into the Ghaggar river from the bridge where they had been stopped.
Apart from this confrontation in Ambala district, there were face-offs between the protesters and police in Haryana's Sirsa, Kurukshetra, Fatehabad and Jind districts bordering Congress-run Punjab.
As for the BKU (Rajewal group), its president Balbir Singh Rajewal said, “We have reached Gharaunda crossing Karnal. We will stay here for the night and proceed to Delhi tomorrow.’’
Farmers from Haryana, too, are participating in the protest and have reached Panipat.
At Karnal, there was another face-off and police again used a water cannon.
By afternoon, several groups of protesters, from Punjab and Haryana, were travelling towards Delhi on tractor-trolleys.
Police diverted private vehicles and long lines of trucks were parked on the road.
"It is condemnable that Haryana Police is using such measures to suppress an assembly of peaceful protesters. We are protesting in a peaceful manner, but they want to prevent us from using our democratic right to protest, a Punjab farmer told reporters earlier at Shambhu.
Police used water cannons also against protesters trying to enter Kaithal district, and at Khanauri border where farmers were protesting under the banner of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugarhan).
Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal were among the opposition leaders who slammed the Haryana Police action at Shambhu.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and his Haryana counterpart Manohar Lal Khattar exchanged words over Twitter.
The Congress veteran asked Khattar why his government was stopping farmers, and the BJP leader told him to stop "inciting" them.
Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Singh Badal too criticised attempts to thwart the protest.
"Today is Punjab's 26/11. We are witnessing the end of the right to democratic protest," he tweeted.
Ahead of the protest, Haryana had announced sealing its borders with Punjab to prevent farmers from entering the state on their way to Delhi.
The Delhi Police had also made clear that they had denied permission to the farmer organisations planning to protest in the capital on November 26 and 27.
In Gurgaon, Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav and a group of protesters were detained by police while they were on their way to Delhi.
In Delhi, commuters from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh complained of traffic jams due to police checks.
"I had to go to Noida regarding a case in the morning. While I was returning from there in the evening, there was heavy traffic at Delhi-Noida border," advocate Rohit Tomar said, "Police personnel were checking vehicles. I was stuck there for almost half an hour," he said.
At Singhu, on Haryana's border with the capital, the Delhi police had stationed five sand-laden trucks to stop tractor-trolleys.
Drones too were deployed.
Police were also deployed on Delhi's border with Faridabad and Gurgaon.
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.
Farmer bodies said they will hold a dharna wherever they are stopped from moving towards the national capital.
BKU (Ekta-Ugarhan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan had claimed 25,000 women will participate and over 4,000 tractor-trailers were arranged for the protest.
The farmers are demanding the repeal of the new laws which deregulate the sale of agriculture produce.
They say the laws will lead to the dismantling of the minimum support price (MSP) system.
Heavy deployment of forces on Delhi border
Haryana’s police and paramilitary forces have also been heavily deployed at the Singhu border with Delhi. Deployment of forces is equally heavy at the interstate border cities of Faridabad and Gurugram.
Police said they will not allow the farmers protesting against the Centre's new farm laws to enter Delhi if they reach the borders of the national capital.
By late evening, a large number of protesters from Punjab and Haryana were close to the national capital, prompting the Delhi Police to close traffic movement at the Singhu Border in view of the 'Delhi Chalo' march by farmers from Punjab against the farm laws.
Traffic movement was also closed from Bahadurgarh towards Delhi on Thursday evening, officials said.
Five sand-laden trucks and three water cannons have also been stationed at the Singhu Border to stop tractors being driven by the protesters.
Also, drones have been deployed to keep a tight vigil to maintain law and order, police said.
Another officer said barbed wire fencing was used at the Singhu Border near the first barricade so that the protesters do not break the barricades put up by security personnel.
In order to prevent farmers from entering Delhi, police deployment was made at NH-24, DND, Chilla Border, Tigri border, Bahadurgarh border, Fridabad border, Kalindi Kunj border and Singhu border.
There has been heavy police deployment at the Singhu Border through which there is a possibility that farmers coming from Punjab and Haryana can enter the city.
To take stock of the situation, Delhi Police Commissioner S N Shrivastava visited the bordering areas and said protesting farmers will not be allowed to enter the national capital.
"Due to COVID-19, guidelines have been issued in which political gathering is not permitted here and for this, their (the farmers') request was rejected. If they still make an attempt, we have deployed personnel at the borders to not let them enter the national capital. We are also in contact with Punjab and Haryana Police," he said.
Asked about commuters facing inconvenience, the Delhi Police chief said, "Since they (protesting farmers) have already blocked the national highway, they are going to be some problems, but we will try to sort it out as soon as possible. Instead of coming to the national capital, they (farmers) should go back and not break any guideline."
Delhi Metro services from neighbouring cities to the national capital will remain suspended on Friday in view of the ''Delhi chalo'' protest march.
However, metro services will be available from Delhi towards the NCR sections, they said.
Taking to twitter, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) on Thursday said, "Update for tomorrow (Friday). As advised by Delhi Police, Metro services will be available only from Delhi towards the NCR sections. However, services from the NCR stations towards Delhi will not be available due to security reasons till further notice."
Also, people coming to the national capital from Haryana and Uttar Pradesh faced traffic snarls at several border crossings as police personnel on Thursday intensified vehicle checking in view of the 'Delhi Chalo' march by Punjab farmers against the Centre's farm laws.
Punjab farmers, representing over 30 farm bodies, have announced they will go to Delhi through several routes -- Lalru, Shambhu, Patiala-Pehowa, Patran-Khanauri, Moonak-Tohana, Ratia-Fatehabad and Talwandi-Sirsa.
Tension was escalating at all the border points.
They assembled near the borders in tractor-trolleys laden with rations and essentials for their proposed Delhi march.
Authorities in Haryana have imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) in several parts of the state to prevent assembly of the protesters.
Farmers' bodies said they will hold a dharna wherever they are stopped from moving towards the national capital.
Punjab 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 the minimum support prices.
(With PTI Inputs)