From toilets to water to sanitation — farmers at the three protest sites at Delhi’s borders are feeling the squeeze with police stepping up barricading over the past few days.
All three sites have seen the addition of more barricades and cement slabs since the January 26 violence. Concertina wires have been used to cover vast stretches, and at Tikri and Ghazipur, police have also put metal spikes on the roads leading to the protest sites.
At Singhu, which has emerged as the largest protest site over the last two months, the barricading has cut off access for farmers to roughly 100 portable toilets. A few metres from the toilets, police are now erecting a tent for a makeshift kitchen.
Harbhajan Singh from Gurdaspur, who has been at the protest for over a month, said the blockade has forced several people to relieve themselves in the open. “There are very few toilets on this side now. There’s one toilet near the petrol pump — and hundreds in an area we can no longer access. So there’s a long queue at the pump,” he said.
Farmers at Singhu also alleged that water supply to the protest site has been hit since January 26.
Delhi Water Minister Satyendar Jain had on Friday said that the Delhi Police had prevented him and Delhi Jal Board vice-chairman Raghav Chadha from supplying drinking water in tankers to Singhu. On Tuesday, Chadha told The Indian Express: “They are not letting the Jal Board tankers through. They are only saying ‘upar se order hai’. We are trying every single day to get our tankers to pass through.”
A senior Delhi Police officer from the Outer district, who is deployed at Singhu, however, said they were allowing essential services through. “Yes, we have blocked the main roads as a preventive measure after the Republic Day tractor march, but farmers still have access to some roads. We are allowing water tankers to reach the farmers from a specific point. Toilets that were earlier outside the protest site are now being shifted to their side of the barricades,” he said.
Mediapersons are no longer allowed to take the main road by crossing the barricades, and now have to go through fields or inner routes to reach the protest site.
Ravindar Singh from Anandpur Sahib, who is protesting at Singhu, said some locals have been kind enough to let them use toilets in factories nearby, even if it means walking a few kilometres in some cases.
At Tikri, mounds of garbage had piled up across the protest site on Tuesday, with farmers saying safai karamcharis have not visited the spot since Monday. While Singhu and Tikri protest sites are on the Haryana side of the border, Ghazipur falls in Uttar Pradesh.
“Before the Republic Day protest, safai karamcharis would come and clean, but not anymore. We just collect garbage and leave it on the side. We are worried about diseases spreading if something is not done,” said Ranjeet Singh, 52, a farmer from Bathinda in Punjab.
Like in Singhu, at Tikri, too, farmers said they were denied access to toilets and alleged that the authorities had put some of toilets under lock and key. Farmers said they broke open the locks of a few toilets. Here, too, farmers now depend on nearby petrol pumps or places of worship.
With no Jal Board water tankers, some of the farmers said they arranged for tankers from their villages and are refilling them with water drawn from borewells and tubewells in the neighbourhood.
The Indian Express tried multiple times to contact Jitender Kumar, District Magistrate of Jhajjar, on the stepped-up barricading, and the alleged lack of access to water and toilets for the farmers, but got no response.
At Ghazipur, farmers said the stepped-up barricading has meant that there are fewer people from Delhi joining the protests.
Jagmohan Choudhury, 63, who has been protesting at Ghazipur, said, “Many of our family members would visit from Delhi, some would get ration, some would do sewa. That has stopped now… But more than that, we are worried locals will end up hating us, thinking we are responsible for the barricading.”
Asked about the increased barricading at the protest sites, Delhi Police Commissioner S N Shrivastava told reporters Tuesday, “I am surprised that when tractors were used on January 26 to attack policemen and barricades were broken, why were no questions raised at that time? What have we done now? We have just strengthened the barricades so nobody can break them again.”