Protesting farmers fear govt will use Covid-19 as a ‘political tool’ to evict them

AM Jigeesh New Delhi | Updated on April 16, 2021

Farmers sitting in protest against the farm laws at the Singhu border, in New Delhi   -  Sushil Kumar Verma

‘If the government wants to adopt a humanitarian approach, they should provide free vaccination in Tikri, Singhu’

Even as Delhi is facing an extraordinary surge in Covid-19 cases, farmers protesting at the Singhu and Tikri borders say they follow stringent social distancing norms, have set up vaccination facilities at the protest sites and are urging governments in Haryana and Punjab to initiate vaccine drives.

If there is a Covid-19 outbreak here, let the authorities show data, say protesters and doctors at these sites.

Police presence has already been stepped up at the protest sites and the farmers’ organisations say they believe that after the Assembly elections, there will be a concerted effort to evict them.

The protesters’ tractor-trolley lines stretch up to 10 kilometres on the GT Karnal Road at Singhu border and about 19 kilometres at Tikri border. The attendance has anyway thinned as the farmers have gone to their villages for the rabi harvest. For those remaining at the protest venue, the number of people in each tractor trolley has been brought down to three from six to seven. Farmers sleep in these trolleys lined along the highways. They have dug their own borewells for water and have limited interaction with the surrounding villages. Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) leader Pavel Kussa said the protesters are taking care and anyone who is feeling uncomfortable or showing symptoms of Covid-19 is treated either at the camps or sent back to Punjab for treatment. BKU leader Joginder Singh Ugrahan himself had contracted the infection and was treated in Punjab. “There is always a possibility that the authorities will use force to suppress this agitation. They have been using Covid as a pretext to curb the protests. It is their political tool. We always make a point to tell people that personal hygiene is important. Government is holding elections in five States. Targeting us is not on valid reasons,” he added.

‘Provide vaccines’

“The farmers are not fools. They are ready to suffer. They understand the problems. If the Government wants to take a humanitarian approach, they should provide free vaccination in Tikri and Singhu. There has been no infection or spread of the virus among the farmers who have been here for close to six months now. We will continue the protests,” said All India Kisan Sabha general secretary Hannan Mollah.

Samyukt Kisan Morcha leader and a trained medical professional Darshan Pal dared the authorities to provide any data connected to spread of Covid-19 because of the farm protests.

“We have been careful. If there’s any spread of Covid-19 from our areas, the Government should provide data for this. We are promoting vaccination among the farmers. Our doctors are also helping the Haryana Government in vaccinating protesting farmers,” Pal said.

US-based cardiologist Swaiman Singh, who is camping in Tikri for the last four months on behalf of Five Rivers Heart Association, said he hasn’t treated any patient with symptoms of Covid-19 from the area.

‘Following safety norms’

“We advise them to ensure personal hygiene including use of hand sanitisers. We are also helping farmers and local people to get vaccinated,” Singh said. Singh has written to the governments of Punjab and Haryana for vaccines.

“We have a large team of registered Indian medical practitioners who are providing their services at the different protest sites. So far, we have not encountered any Covid case at the protest site but we are concerned about those who visit Punjab, Haryana and Delhi these days as they might pick up the virus from places outside the protests,” Singh said in his letter to Chief Ministers of both the States.

He said medical practitioners are willing to provide covid vaccine to the farmers and local people.

“We have established infrastructure and other facilities to hold a vaccine drive at Tikri border. We have been educating people about Covid vaccination and corona virus by visiting trolley to trolley and will continue to do that,” he said.

Published on April 15, 2021

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