Punjab unions refuse to lift stir even after Reliance rules out foray into agri marketing

Apart from the sit-in, over 1,550 Jio towers have been damaged across the state since the call by farmers to boycott the mobile phone service provider.

A day after Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) moved Punjab and Haryana High Court over alleged vandalism of towers and declared that they have no plans to enter corporate farming, the protesting farmer unions vowed to continue their sit-ins outside company-owned petrol pumps and shopping outlets till their demand for a complete rollback of the contentious agriculture Bills is met.

The farmer unions of Punjab launched dharnas outside petrol pumps of Reliance and its partner Essar, which number nearly 90 across the state, as well as 10 shopping malls on October 8 last year. However, BKU Ugrahan, the largest farmer union in the state, lifted its dharna from dealer-based petrol pumps on October 20 and the remaining 32 unions followed suit from November 5 onwards. The unions have since continued their stir outside 38 company-owned fuel stations in the state.

Asked if the dharnas would be lifted now that Reliance has put out a statement clarifying that it won’t foray into the agriculture sector, Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, general secretary, BKU Ugrahan, said, “No, we won’t lift dharnas from outside petrol pumps and shopping malls or stores. As of now, we are staging sit-ins outside 10 Reliance-owned petrol pumps and 10 shopping malls in Fazilka, Sangrur, Barnala, Bathinda and Mansa, among other areas and till the farm Bills are repealed, we won’t budge an inch. These laws are for big corporates and our protest, therefore, is against corporate houses no matter what they are saying.”

Confirming that dharnas by the remaining 32 unions outside 28 company-owned petrol pumps in Punjab will continue, Jagmohan Singh Patiala, working committee member of All India Kisan Sangrash Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), said, “These Bills pertain to agricultural marketing which majorly involves big corporate houses. Hence, we will continue our protest till all three farm laws have been repealed.”

Apart from the sit-in, over 1,550 Jio towers have been damaged across the state since the call by farmers to boycott the mobile phone service provider. Special Superintendent of Police Viveksheel Soni said the maximum damage to towers was reported in Sangrur, with 117 of them being targeted. However, physical damage was reported in only four such cases in Sandaur, Sangrur Sadar, Lehra and Chhajali areas, the SSP said, adding that a fresh case surfaced in Moonak on Monday where power supply to a mobile tower was snapped. The tower was shared by Jio and the state-owned BSNL, said Sangrur police, adding no other cases have been reported since. Four Sangrur towers, which were physically damaged, are yet to be repaired.

Bhupinderjit Singh Virk, SSP, Bathinda, said, “There was no physical damage to any of the towers here. However, power is yet to be restored to 10 of them.” In Mansa, Fazilka, Ferozepur and Barnala, no fresh case has been reported for more than a week, said police.

In Ferozepur, power has been restored to 125 towers and no new case of damage has come to light over the last four days, SSP Bhupinder Singh said.

Harjit Singh, SSP, Fazilka, said, “In all 30 cases of damage reported here, only power connection was snapped. It has been restored. However, there was one incident where the fuse box (of the tower) was dismantled. It has since been repaired.”

In Barnala, power supply has been restored to 23 towers, said SSP Sandeep Goel. In Mansa, 40 such incidents were reported and power supply has been restored to all the towers, said SSP Mansa Surinder Singh Lamba, adding that no new case has been reported in the last one week.

However, the effect of the Jio boycott call is still being felt across the state, with incidents of snapping power lines to towers being reported from most districts, informed police.

However, many villagers, who have ported their numbers from Jio to rival networks, couldn’t come up with a convincing answer on why they switched from one corporate house to another if they are against them, per se.

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