An astonishing crowd of farmers reached the Uttar Pradesh-Delhi border on Tuesday with an aim to reach 'Kisaan-ghat' in the national capital and draw the Centre's attention to a host of their problems.
The farmers, led by the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), wanted to raise their concerns over implementation of the Swaminathan committee recommendations, power-bill waivers, the National Green Tribunal's ban on plying of over a decade-old vehicles, pending sugarcane dues, among others.
The farmers, estimated at around 25,000, were stopped at the Delhi border, where heavy police and paramilitary deployment were waiting for them at the UP gate on National Highway 24 -- the border of Ghaziabad-Noida-Delhi.
Around 700 tractors with customised extra-large trolleys stood parked on the road -- stretching over 1.5-2 km -- with each of them having mattresses and tarpaulins, providing resting place to elderly men and women who began their 'Kisan Kranti Yatra' on September 23 from Haridwar to Delhi.
Docked on these trolleys were power generators to ensure that mobile phone batteries do not run dry, even as there was a regular supply of bananas and water packets to those agitating under the scorching sun.
En route, they stopped at Patanjali Ashram in Haridwar, the next day at Manglaur, then at an inter-college in Barla, followed by a stay at a camp in Muzaffarnagar, then through Meerut till the Delhi border in Ghaziabad, according to a protester, a member of the BKU, which is led by Naresh Tikait.
"People from Saharanpur, Meerut, Jhansi, Barabanki, Muzaffarnagar, Haridwar mostly constituted the crowd," the protester said, adding that wherever they stopped, local associates arranged meals for everyone with donations and contributions.
"When we seek solution to our problems in the village, we are told that the government sits in Delhi. Now, when we have come to Delhi to talk to the government, we are denied entry, batons are charged and water canons opened on us while our tractors are damaged," said Jaiveer Singh, 60, from Budhana in Muzaffarnagar. "This is injustice by the government," he told PTI.
Another farmer from Budhana, Anil Kumar, 45, said, "The farmers are deeply anguished... Isn't it evident by the sheer size of protesters who have gathered here?"
Several women from Allahabad, too, joined the protest. "We've left behind our children back home just to join the protest and fight for our rights. I have three children. They do not go to school. We don't have money to meet our daily needs. Everyday survival has become difficult ever since a portion of our land was taken away for a road construction," Jyoti Chauhan, 30, from Allahabad said.
"I'm a farmer's son. We know about our situation better than anyone else. We should be getting minimum support price for crops which we aren't getting", said Ankit, 25, a farmer from Saharanpur.
Young farmers lamented that the NGT had ordered not to allow tractors older than a decade to ply in the National Capital Region (NCR).
Vishal Meherwal, from Deoband, said the farmers have been asked to stop using old vehicles, but nobody has offered them any financial support or alternative for this. "I have 70-bigha land and two tractors -- one 1982 model and another 2004. In one stroke, they have been phased out. How do we work now?, asked Vishal, 25, who lives with his parents and sister.
He also claimed that payment for his sugarcane produce worth lakhs was pending since last November.
Mukul Singh, 24, a farmer from a village in Saharanpur was upset that his 1997-model tractor was not usable because of the court order. "When I can't buy a new motorcycle, how will I buy a new tractor? The government should think about this.