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Punjab farmers continue blocking rail tracks

As many as eight farmer organizations are demanding higher compensation for crop damage and higher crop support prices from the state govt

New Delhi: Farmers demanding higher compensation for crop damage and higher crop support prices continued their stir for the second day on Thursday, blocking rail traffic in several districts.

As many as eight farmer organizations are on protest path against the state government led by the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The BT Cotton crop grown in Bhatinda, Moga, Fazilka, Barnala and Sangrur suffered extensive damage across the state due to the whitefly pest attack.

Nearly two-thirds of the crop in 90% of the fields have been damaged, said Jagmohan Singh, state secretary of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda), one of the agitating organizations.

While the state government has announced a compensation of 8,000 per acre, farmers are want 40,000 per acre, plus 20,000 per family of agricultural labourers.

Farmers also want the government to buy their premium produce of Basmati rice since wholesale prices have nosedived due to lower exports.

Last year, rice sold between 3,000 and 4,000 per quintal; the price this year is down to less than 1,500 per quintal.

Further, farm organizations want the state government to announce a debt relief package, and pay 5 lakh compensation to families in which farmer suicides have taken place.

“Even before the Kharif season started, farmers had to sell potatoes at a loss. Sugar mills are not paying farmers, there is little cotton left on the field and we want the government to purchase the basmati rice at support prices," said Singh.

What’s more, the state government is rattled by a pesticide scam where spurious chemicals were procured by government agencies and passed on to cotton growers.

The state government suspended the director of agriculture, who was later arrested by the state police for his alleged involvement in the sale of spurious pesticides.

With farmers blocking rail tracks in 13 locations, 25 trains were cancelled on Wednesday in Jalandhar, Amritsar, Bhatinda, Ambala and other districts, according to a report in The Tribune. The report adds that around 1,500 protesting farmers and activists were detained by the state police in different areas.

Protests by farmers have doubled in the past one year due to spiking rural distress, Mint reported earlier.

Rural incomes are stressed due to back-to-back deficit monsoon years and lower prices of key crops like rice, wheat and cotton. The 2015 southwest monsoon ended with a deficit of 14%, while 2014 recorded a deficit of 12%.

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