LAHORE - Hundreds of farmers have encamped outside the Punjab Assembly, partially blocking The Mall for traffic since Monday morning.

United under the banner of Khalid Khokhar faction of Pakistan Kissan Ittehad, these protestors represent a large number of farmers in different areas of Punjab. Their demands are being echoed in a series of protests for last many years.

The farmers say the government is putting Indian farmers before its own. Beside an end to trade with the neighbouring country, they are demanding the government to waive off agriculture and income tax on farmers, decrease electricity tariff on tube-wells, and regulation of major crops’ prices.

Last week, the provincial government promised to address the farmers’ woes after one of the protesters died outside the Punjab Assembly on Friday.

“A committee comprised of provincial minister, chief sectary, concerned secretaries and representatives of farmers has been constituted to make recommendations for addressing farmers’ issues. The agriculture policy will be made with farmers’ consultation,” an official had told The Nation following a meeting between CM Shehbaz Sharif and the farmers’ delegation.

The federal government last year, during local government polls, had announced Rs341 billion Kissan Package. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had said over 1.2 million farmers across the country will benefit from the package.

Also CM Shehbaz, following the federal government package, announced another Rs100 billion package for the farmers of the province in March. But the growers say they did not get any relief from the package.

The situation became tense yesterday when hundreds of fierce farmer returned to The Mall, and burnt tyres at Faisal Chowk. Despite several attempts by the commuters to seek passage, the protestors kept one of the busiest roads in Lahore blocked outside the Punjab Assembly for several hours.

Police, later on, brought the situation to calm by allowing the angry farmers to continue a peaceful sit-in. Traffic was however diverted to other link roads, leaving the drivers in extreme agony.

Raged over the ‘betrayal’ by their ally - Ch Anwar group - that called off their protest after negotiations with the government, the Khokhar group alleged it had nothing to do with famers’ rights.

However, the members of PKI’s Khokhar group were of the opinion that all the farmers who had fertilized arid pieces of land should be given proprietary rights. They also called upon the government to take consideration on an agricultural policy from all the unions of farmers.

In afternoon, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leaders Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Jahangir Tareen, Ch Sarwar and Raja Riaz, and Awami Muslim League chief Sheikh Rasheed joined the protesting farmers, addressed them and assured them full support of their parties.

Shah Mehmood said the Punjab government had crushed the small farmers with its “anti-agriculture policy”. He said his party had raised the voice for farmers at every forum and would continue their support until their demands were not accepted. But, Shah said, he feared the present government would never provide any relief to the farmers, and it was only PTI which, after coming into power, would made agriculture friendly policies.

Sheikh Rasheed also criticised the PML-N government “for destroying backbone of the country’s economy by introducing anti-farmers policies.” He said the government days were numbered and poor would soon get rid of this government.

Kissan Ittehad secretary general Mian Umair Masood told The Nation that Opposition leader in National Assembly Khurshed Shah and other PPP stalwart would also visit their camp today (Tuesday). He said that PTI chairman Imran Khan and PPP chairman Belawal Bhutto Zardari were also invited and they would too most probably visit them.

“We demand Rs5 per unit tariff instead of present tariff of Rs10 on agri units. We demand complete ban on agri trade with India as our farmers are not in position to compete Indian farmers in present situation. They (Indian) are given every facility by their government but we are even deprived basic facilities. So how we can sell our products at rate which India’s farmer offers,” said Mian Umair.

He affirmed their protest will continue until the Punjab government fully addresses their concerns.