SKM headquarters now stands empty as farmers head home; local traders hope business will pick up soon


NEW DELHI: The headquarters of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) at Singhu Border wore a deserted look on Saturday as the farmers protesting the Centre’s farm laws began their journey home following a successful culmination of their year-long sit-in.

The SKM HQ, housed in a godown of tiles along the highway blockaded by the protesting farmers in Haryana’s Kundli, served as a nerve centre for their movement, hosting countless meetings and press conferences.

The iron gate of the humble structure where SKM volunteers used to screen visitors was opened in complete silence in the morning, with the farmers busy dismantling their tents and other structures and packing their things up.

Inside, Baliram, who is in his early 60s, was having an early lunch.

He worked as a watchman at the godown.

“This place used to see so much activity with all the farmer leaders having meetings here and discussing things everyday. Now see I am the only person here,” the man from Begusarai in Bihar said.

The leaders of farm unions from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh held their crucial meetings, including the one on last Thursday in which they announced to suspend their protest and leave the highway, at the SKM headquarters.

The SKM, an umbrella body of 40 farm unions, was born out of the anti-farm law protests against the Centre over their demands for repeal of the three legislations and legal guarantee of MSP on crops among others.

In their last meeting here, SKM leaders decided to suspend the protest following repeal of the farm laws by the Centre.

The SKM has also accepted the government’s assurances to their demands concerning the legal guarantee of MSP of crops, compensation to the kin of farmers who died during the protest and withdrawal of cases registered against farmers during the year-long protest.

Farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, started protesting at Delhi border points from November 26 last year against the three laws.

Small-time scrap dealers had a field day at the Singhu border with a huge quantity of leftovers, including bamboo poles, tarpaulin sheets, plastic and wood pieces, lying up for grab as the protesting farmers headed home on Saturday after a successful culmination of their year-long siege.

The around-five-km stretch of the highway on the Haryana side of the Singhu border in Sonipat’s Kundli was a pit stop for the farmers, who had erected temporary structures, including accommodation facilities with washrooms and kitchens.

Since daybreak, hordes of residents of slums and scrap dealers swooped down with men, women and children picking up bamboo poles, tarpaulin sheets, pieces of wood, plastic and iron bars and carrying those back on carts.

A few of them even got lucky, with the protesters returning to Punjab giving them blankets, woolens, clothes, money and other items of daily use.

Javed, a middle-aged man originally from Assam, was seen collecting plastic sheets along with his wife and daughter.

“I will sell these. We used to get food at the langar here but it is over now,” Javed, who is currently out of work, said.

Nearby, a group of kids was busy collecting bamboo poles, pieces of plastic and other such stuff, and tying those into a bundle.

“I got a blanket from a Sardarji uncle,” said 14-year-old Samee, showing his sack filled with old clothes and woolens.

Kundli houses many factories, large warehouses and workshops that employ thousands of migrant workers from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other states.

Due to the combined impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdown, topped by the year-long siege by the protesting farmers, life has been tough for most of them with a lack of jobs and other sources of income.

“I came early and got some stuff. It will fetch me around Rs 500,” said a woman who refused to reveal her name.

“My husband used to work at a factory and now, he works as a labourer,” she said when asked why was she collecting junk.

Amid the hustle and bustle at Singhu, convoys of tractor trolleys, cars and other vehicles carrying the protesters rolled down towards various parts of Punjab and Haryana, from where they had reached the protest site in the last week of November, 2020, demanding a repeal of three farm laws enacted by the Centre.

The protesters were also a source of free meals for the poor and needy of the area for the last one year.

“Langar is our tradition and we fed these kids and others. Now, the almighty will take care of them,” said a protester from Mohali while giving Rs 20 to a girl called Priya, who was carrying an oil-filled bucket.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of over 40 farm unions, decided to suspend the year-long movement on Thursday, after the Centre repealed the contentious farm laws.

It has also accepted the Centre’s assurances regarding its demands concerning a legal guarantee of a minimum support price (MSP) for crops, compensation to the kin of the farmers who died during the protest and withdrawal of the cases registered against the farmers during the year-long protest.

As farmers protesting the Centre’s agriculture laws began heading home from Delhi’s Singh border on Saturday after a successful culmination of their year-long sit-in, traders of the area hoped for revival of business.

Several vendors of the area said transportation of raw materials was one of the major issues the region faced due to blockaded roads.

Gulshan Rathi, a motorcycle shop owner on the Haryana side of Singhu Border in Kundli, said the farmers never posed any trouble for them.

“We never had anything against the farmers but we had our own problems which no one was ready to hear about. We were caught between the farmers and the government.”

“It is a commendable step that the farmers have decided to go back. Now lives and businesses here will also return on track,” Rathi said.

Kundli is an industrial area where many factories, vehicle showrooms, warehouses, stores and shops are located.

Thousands of farmers, primarily from Punjab and Haryana, had occupied a five-six-kilometre stretch of the main Delhi-Chandigarh highway near Singhu border to press for their demands.

Anupama Devi, 35, who runs a roadside tea stall, hopes her business will be restored after the farmers vacate the road stretch.

She said that before the agitation started, she used to earn around 1,500 per day.

“Ever since the farmers claimed the street here, earnings came down to around Rs 1,000 as they do not generally consume tobacco products which I sell. I hope that now my business will pick up,” the woman said, with her one-year-old son clinging to her lap.

A resident of Begusarai in Bihar, Anupama Devi lives in Kundli with her husband Rupesh, who was a factory worker but met with an accident.

“After the accident, he was kicked out of the job and we then started the makeshift tea stall. Our earning was decent but it was reduced after the movement started. I hope things to get better,” she added.

She said the farmers never troubled them and even gave them food to eat.

Ajay Sharma, who owns a wholesale business of electrical items, said supply of goods was the main problem he faced during the protest due to road blockades.

“Our goods come from Delhi but due to the blockade on the highway, it not only began to come late but also became costlier. Now, we expect things to return to normal. We suffered huge losses in business first due to COVID-19 and then because of the agitation,” he said.

Convoys of tractor trolleys, cars and other vehicles carrying the protesters rolled down towards various parts of Punjab and Haryana, from where they had reached the protest site in the last week of November 2020, demanding a repeal of three farm laws enacted by the Centre.

The Centre finally repealed the laws on November 29 this year, but the farmers kept the protest going as their other demands, including a legal guarantee on MSP and withdrawal of cases against them, were pending.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 40 farm unions, on Thursday suspended over the year-long protest after the central government agreed to fulfil their pending demands.

Balbir Singh, who runs a transport business, said heavy vehicles carrying raw materials had to stop far away from the factories in the area due to the barricades.

“Then again it had to be fetched in small batches due to the road blockades. That not only wasted hours but also resulted in increased cost due to extra labour, extra fuel and transportation charges. I hope that business will revive now,” he said.