Suryakant Jena

Bhubaneswar: Lakhs of farmers under the aegis of Naba Nirman Krushak Sangathan (NNKS) are observing a 12-hour statewide shutdown in Odisha over their long-standing demands of price, pension and prestige.

In Bhubaneswar, members of the NNKS staged protests near Patia-Nandankanan road early in the morning and blocked roads by burning tyres. Similar protests were also witnessed near Master Canteen area and other places of the city.

Twin City Police Commissioner Satyajit Mohanty said the shutdown has not affected the normal life in any way in Cuttack and Bhubaneswar. "We have picked up 70-80 protesters while picketing at various points in Bhubaneswar, whereas the bandh did not have any impact in Cuttack. As many as 30 platoons of police forec have been deployed in the Twin City to maintain law and order," Mohanty said.

In Berhampur, members of the NNKS staged road blockade by burning tyres and raising slogans alleging anti-farmer policies by the ruling government.

Impact of the shutdown has heavily affected normalcy in Bhadrak district. Farmers and activists of NNKS observed the bandh near bus stand, Bhandaripokhari and other areas by staging pickets on NH-16. Vehicular communication was hit between Bhadrak, Cuttack and Balasore.

In Jagatsinghpur, farmers held protests in eight blocks including the district headquarters. Businesses, markets and establishments were closed and vehicular communication was also thrown out of gear in the district.

Members of farmer body raised voice against the government by staging sit-on at several junctions of Phulbani town. While normalcy has been badly hit in the district headquarters of Kandhamal, police have also ensured adequate arrangements to prevent any untoward incidents.

In Koraput, farmers along with members of Congress and BJP participated in the shutdown. Buses and other modes of public transportation have stopped plying giving jitters to the public.

As buses and other modes of public transportation including taxis, auto-rickshaws remained out of bounds in most areas, railway and air passengers had to face hassles.

Several foreign nationals were seen stranded at Biju Patnaik International Airport in Bhubaneswar. Hundreds of passengers buses were also witnessed waiting for buses and autos at bus stands in the capital city, Rourkela, Cuttack and several other places.

“There is no mention of our demands in the terms of reference. We don’t understand why the state government is reluctant to fulfil our demands,” questioned NNKS national coordinator, Akshaya  Kumar.

The Congress and the BJP have also lent support to the bandh call to protect the interest of the farmers.

“We are giving moral support to the farmers’ agitation as everybody has a right to protest in a democracy,” said BJP Krushak Morcha secretary, Surath Biswal.

Congress spokesperson, Bibhu Prasad Tarai said, “The government is not ready to accept the demands of price, prestige and pension. Hence, our party is supporting such agitation morally.”

OPCC Chief Niranjan Patnaik while extending support to the bandh tweeted, "Our annadatas have suffered a lot due to the anti farmer policies of the BJD and the BJP. Odisha Congress supports the bandh called by the farmers."

On the other hand, State Agriculture Minister Sashi Bhusan Behera cited the shutdown as unfortunate and said that the public has suffered the most due to it.

“Repeated protests by members of NNKS and decision to observe a shutdown that too at a time when lakhs of students are going to appear their crucial matriculation examination, is unfortunate. The Odisha bandh by farmers has pressurised the matric students mentally. It's even more saddening that two national-level political parties BJP & Congress have extended their support to the bandh,” said Behera.

As many as 10 farmers from Patia-Nandankanan road in Bhubaneswar, over 20 from NH-16 in Bhadrak and more than 30 farmers from Jagatsinghpur, 39 from Cuttack Madhupatna, over 56 from Chandikhole, Dharmasala and Panikoili areas of Jajpur district, more than 15 farmers from Khurda and 20 from Jatni were taken into preventive custody by police during their protests over price, pension & prestige.

"We are demanding price, pension and prestige but this Odisha govt is coming up with KALIA Scheme and PEETHA Scheme which in no way is going to benefit farmers. We will give a befitting reply in the upcoming elections,” alleged an agitating farmer in Bhubaneswar.

Apart from price, pension and prestige, the outfit has been demanding security allowance of Rs 5000 per month for farmers in the State.