Aftermath of farm laws’ repeal: Residents hope for a smoother commute soon

With one of the longest running movements in the post-Independence India being carried out right at their doorstep, local residents near the three key farm protests sites of Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders have had their share of good and bad experiences.

Several local residents helped sustain the protesters, who were hundreds of kilometres away from their homes, but several others were frustrated by traffic snarls, long detours, and the loss of business that the stir caused.

At the Tikri border, Dinesh Sangwan, a local resident who runs a medical shop which directly overlooks the main protest stage, said it has been an unprecedented experience for the area’s residents.

“Yes, there is resentment among people, but the majority still supported the farmers during the protest. I remember that there was an acute drinking water shortage after the first two days last year, and all bottled water was exhausted. The locals then provided drinking water, and also sent milk, buttermilk and vegetables,” Sangwan said.

Rajesh Lohat, another resident of the area, said that the protest helped bridging the Haryana-Punjab divide. “There has been a complicated relation between our two states due to water-sharing, Chandigarh, and language issues. But the protest has helped bridge the differences to a large extent,” Lohat said.

Across the eastern border of the city, Prem Singh, a resident of Ghaziabad who was at the Ghazipur border on Friday, said his family has been coming to the protest site for the last six months and helping the farmers with odd jobs such as chopping vegetables, providing drinking water, and cleaning tents.

He said they wanted to show their solidarity with the farmers. “We all come here in the evening and peel potatoes or peas, or do any other small jobs around here to help the farmers. My son is in college, so once his classes are over for the day, he comes here and listens to the speeches. These people have braved a lot over the last year and it is not easy to live outdoors, facing the heat, the rain and the cold,” said Singh.

For commuters between Delhi and Ghaziabad, the Friday’s announcement by the Prime Minister that the government has decided to repeal the three farm laws, came as a signal that their daily traffic woes may soon come to an end.

Brijesh Goswami, who goes from Delhi from Indirapuram daily, said people had to spend an additional 40-50 minutes on the road to reach their destinations. “Either we take a 3km detour from Anand Vihar while moving from UP to Delhi, or go through a narrow road passing through Ghazipur poultry market and Khoda Colony. A checkpoint at Khoda adds 30 minutes to 1 hour during peak traffic hours,” Goswami said.

Manoj Kumar Saini, 42, who runs a budget eatery — Janta hotel near the Tikri Industrial area — said he supports the farmers’ demands, but added that businesses along the highway have been devastated by the protests.

“Unlike the Singhu and Ghazipur borders, the Tikri site has a large number of shops and industries. After the pandemic-induced lockdown, the protest has been a second major blow to the economy of the area.

“I used to employ 13 workers last year, but now I have only four because factories have shut down and there are no customers,” Saini said. Rituraj Jha, a worker in the factories agreed with Saini. “Almost 40% factories and units have closed down operations due to lack of road access and labourers have migrated as there was no work,” Jha said, and added that Covid also led to closure of businesses.

Sham Singh, who works at a store near the Singhu protest site, said the government’s decision was relief. “Our mall remain shut for more than 70 days before we reopened it in February. We suffered huge losses. Although farmers are buying clothes and shoes from us regularly, the income is still very low. I hope that the protesters soon vacate the site and we start getting normal business again,” he said.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella association of various farmers’ groups that was spearheading the agitation, welcomed the announcement by the Prime Minister, but said that the future course of action will be decided after the core committee meetings on Saturday and Sunday.

For now, the farmers continue to stay put on Delhi’s borders.

(With inputs from Soumya Pillai and Fareeha Iftikhar)

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Jitendra Kumar

Jitendra Kumar Born on October 10, 1990 an Indian author and activist from Hathras in Uttar Pradesh.