Hundreds of Bharatiya Kisan Union members stayed put on the Delhi-Meerut Expressway early on Friday, notwithstanding the Ghaziabad administration’s ultimatum to vacate the UP Gate protest site. A confrontation was building up at the UP Gate in Ghazipur even as frequent power cuts were witnessed in the evening at the protest site, where BKU members, led by Rakesh Tikait, are staying put since November 28.
In a post-midnight review of situation, Ghaziabad District Magistrate Ajay Shankar Pandey and Senior Superintendent of Police Kalanidhi Naithani visited the protest site even as hundreds of security personnel in anti-riot gears were deployed since Thursday.
Flanked by supporters at 1 am, Tikait remained at the centre stage of the protest site -- the Delhi-Meerut Expressway, which has been barricaded from both the sides, prohibiting regular traffic movement. Around 500 protestors stayed put at UP Gate with more pouring in from western Uttar Pradesh in the night on the call of the BKU, an influential farmers’ union in North India.
"Excess security force from the protest site has been withdrawn and only a minimal deployment of personnel remains there," a Ghaziabad police officer told PTI on the condition of anonymity.
"The tension was building at UP Gate due to excessive deployment of force since Thursday evening," the officer added.
Several protestors waved the tricolor with some waving flags of farmer unions like Kisan Ekta Manch amid a continuous sloganeering of "Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan", while many were lying down on mattresses covered in blankets as they braved bone-chilling cold and wind.
"Zaroorat padi to khade rehke dharna denge, tum dharne pe baithe rehne ki baat karte ho (I can protest while standing up and you are asking whether I am going to continue my sit-in protest)," Jagat Singh Rathi, 78, said.
With a muffler tied around his head and a stick in his hand for support while walking, the septuagenarian from Meerut said that he has been at the BKU's protest since its beginning on November 28.
Asked if he would vacate the protest site following the administration's communication, he said, "(UP Gate) khaali nahi karenge. We have not seen any such order to vacate the protest site. When the Supreme Court has said that farmers have a right to protest then what? We will do it."
The "verbal" communication from the district administration to the BKU on Thursday came close on the heels of three farmer unions withdrawing their protest against the three farm laws over the violence in Delhi on Republic Day.
"Ghaziabad District Magistrate Ajay Shankar Pandey has communicated to the protestors camping at the UP Gate at Delhi border to vacate the spot by tonight or the administration will remove them," a district official had told PTI.
Thousands of protesting farmers have been protesting at Delhi's borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh demanding the rollback of the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
The protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that these laws would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the "mercy" of big corporations. However, the government has maintained that the new laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture.