UP govt loses money as farmers seize toll plaza

No headway in talks between state govt, protesters

If Akhilesh Yadav, the youngest chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, was nurturing dreams that his state could be an attractive investment destination, capturing of the toll plaza on the Meerut-Dehradun national highway by the farmers for past four days causing huge losses could deliver a fatal blow.

Hundreds of lathi wielding farmers led by the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) have been sitting on a dharna on the highway to push for various demands which also include waiving of toll charges for the vehicles of farmers.

The farmers held a mahapanchayat on Saturday and decided to intensify their agitation. “We may even close the highway,” declared the BKU chief Rakesh Tikait after a meeting with farmers called from the nearby districts.

So far they have opened one side of the highway for traffic. Since the toll employees have been shooed away from there, vehicles are crossing without paying any toll.

“Thousands of vehicles pass through the highway daily. The daily earnings are around Rs 30 lakh,” said an official. Several rounds of talks have been held between the government officials, toll company and the farmers’ representatives but to no avail.

The officials have expressed serious concern over the ongoing dharna, but the state government has not issued any instruction. “We have been given strict instruction not to use force to evict the farmers,” said an official.

Apparently, the state government does not want to invite the wrath of the farmers, who it had been wooing aggressively. But the dilly-dallying can have serious repercussions on the government’s bid to project UP an attractive destination for investment, the officials added.

The officials also cite the example of the shifting of a cargo handling company’ operations from Haldia in West Bengal after the latter failed to give protection to the company’s employees.

UP government had taken several farmer-friendly steps in the past few days. Recently it withdrew cases against the farmers of Bhatta-Parsaul. Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, who had recently met a delegation of the BKU, assured to consider their demands sympathetically.

To appease the farmers, he also assured that his government would consider waiving toll charges on the Yamuna Expressway connecting Noida and Agra. It remains to be seen if the government stays silent even if traffic on the highway comes to a standstill.

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