Punjab Congress MPs, railway minister fail to end deadlock over resumption of train service

Railway minister Piyush Goyal and Congress MPs from Punjab on Thursday failed to come to an agreement over the resumption of train services in the state in the wake of the ongoing protests by the farmer unions against the Centre’s agriculture laws.

The Congress’ Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha MPs met Goyal in two groups in New Delhi to press for immediate resumption of freight trains, but both sides stuck to their stated positions. Four Lok Sabha MPs – Gurjeet Singh Aujla, Santokh Singh Chaudhary, Ravneet Singh Bittu and Mohammad Sadique –left the meeting midway and later accused the Union minister of blaming the Punjab government for the protests against the farm laws, and ignoring the problems being faced by the state and its people despite the chief minister’s assurance on safety and security of trains and staff.

Goyal, however, said the railways was keen on starting train services for the benefit of farmers, industry, general public and passengers.

“Request state government to clear entire railway network from blockages so that we can run all trains, to and through Punjab, without interruption and safely (sic),” he tweeted after the meeting.

The two sides though agreed to have the top officers of railways and the Punjab government to coordinate the efforts to clear the tracks and resume services at the earliest. The MPs, who had also sought time from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will now meet Union home minister Amit Shah on November 7 over the impact of suspension of trains on supplies of coal, fertilisers and other essential goods, GST compensation and the Centre’s refusal to release rural development fund to the state.

LACK OF COORDINATION
AMONG CONGRESS MPs

The Congress MPs’ meetings with the railway minister brought out their lack of coordination to the fore. Rajya Sabha MPs Partap Singh Bajwa and Shamsher Singh Dullo, who were the first to meet Goyal, urged him to resume freight operations at the earliest otherwise the safety and security of Punjab as well as the armed forces and civilians living in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh would be negatively impacted.

As why he and Dullo went separately, Bajwa said they were not kept in the loop by the Lok Sabha MPs about their plans to meet Goyal. The two MPs have been critical of the CM in the past.

Thereafter, the Lok Sabha MPs met the minister. Aujla said they explained the difficulties to Goyal but he was adamant that train services would not be resumed till all tracks were cleared. “The minister kept talking about the opposition in Punjab to farm laws and how there were no protests in other states. We told him that the CM (Amarinder Singh) has given a categorical assurance on his concerns regarding safety and security but he said railway officers will look at it,” the Amritsar MP said.

Bittu and Aujla were the first to leave the meeting, and then Chaudhary and Sadique also joined them. The remaining four MPs – Preneet Kaur, Manish Tewari, Dr Amar Singh and Jasbir Singh Gill – continued the talks with the minister.

Chaudhary said he told the minister about the losses, particularly finished goods worth Rs 2,400 crore that were lying in his constituency (Jalandhar) due to suspension of trains. “We had sought time from PM who has deputed the home minister to meet us,” he said.

Fatehgarh Sahib MP Dr Amar Singh said the minister was informed about the efforts being made to get the farmers to clear the tracks and railway platforms.

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