Bengaluru: Farmers take city by storm, choke roads

The farmers sought a solution to their water woes in the two parched districts of Chikkaballapur and Kolar.

Bengaluru: Chaos ruled in Bengaluru city on Thursday when hundreds of farmers blocked the road leading to the airport and disrupted traffic as they sought a solution to their water woes in the two parched districts of Chikkaballapur and Kolar, prompting police to resort to a baton charge. The farmers were enraged as police tried to prevent their entry into the city. The protest to lay siege to Vidhana Soudha, where the legislature is in session, was organised by farmers' bodies demanding permanent irrigation facilities in the two districts.

Breaking through barricades, the farmers came into the city in tractors and on two-wheelers as police tried in vain to block them. Police then resorted to baton charge, as a result of which a large number of vehicles, were abandoned on the road. The protest resulted in a huge traffic pileup on the road leading to Kempegowda International Airport.

Farmers’ protest for immediate drought relief from the government turned violent on Thursday afternoon when the city police resorted to lathi charge on a stretch of Ballari Road near Palace Grounds at the Cauvery Theatre junction. Around 10 farmers got injured in the rioting and three of them required hospitalization. Their condition is said to be out of danger, the police said. The police resorted to lathi charge as the farmers started swelling in numbers and they wanted to lay siege around the chief minister's official residence ‘Krishna’ on the Kumarakrupa Road, half a kilometre from where the rioting happened.

Police lathicharge agitating sugarcane farmers near Freedom Park in Bengaluru on ThursdayPolice lathicharge agitating sugarcane farmers near Freedom Park in Bengaluru on Thursday

Farmers were vociferous in their demand that they be allowed towards Vidhan Soudha and the Chief Minister’s residence for voicing their grievances. They were stopped by the police with barricades and force. The farmers also wanted to take their tractors along and the situation soon turned volatile. Heated arguments ensued between the police and the irked and agitated farmers who later started rioting by pelting stones at government buses, driving tractors on the dividers blocking both the sides of the Ballari Road traffic and blocked the road using blocks from the centre median dividers.

Around 15 government buses (including BMTC and KSRTC) were pelted with stones and vandalized by the agitators during the rioting. Traffic was thrown out of gear on the Ballari Road starting from 1 pm until about 4.30 pm after which the traffic flow was hampered till 6 pm, causing inconvenience to thousands of commuters. This also included hundreds of airline passengers who had to catch their flights got stuck in the traffic. School buses and ambulances got stuck in the pileup for hours together.

School  children walk to their homes after school buses got stuck in traffic jam due to farmers' protests (Photo: SATISH B.)School children walk to their homes after school buses got stuck in traffic jam due to farmers’ protests (Photo: SATISH B.)

The police had to deploy additional forces to bring the situation under control and de-congest the traffic gradually. Senior police officers including the city police commissioner, N.S. Megharikh along with Additional commissioner of Police, West and East Division, K.S.R.Charan Reddy and P. Harisekaran respectively along with the Additional Commissioner of Police (Traffic) Dr M.A. Saleem visited the spot and assessed the situation. Many agitators have been arrested and booked for rioting and violence disrupting harmony and other offences. Hundreds of tractors were also seized by the High Grounds police.

“The permission was granted to the farmers by the police after they sought to peacefully protest at the Freedom Park on Thursday, but when their (farmers') plans changed midway to head towards Vidhana Soudha when the assembly sessions were still on,” said a senior police officer adding that the farmers had also plans to gherao the Chief Minister's residence while they were heading to Vidhan Soudha. “When the assembly sessions are on, Section 144 will be imposed around Vidhan Soudha and that was the reason the police had to forcibly stop them from entering the radius zone,” said another senior officer.

Thousands of farmers from the Chikkaballapur, Tumakuru, Kolar districts and even Bengaluru rural districts gathered at the Rani Circle in Devanahalli on Thursday morning at around 8 am to protest against the government for not implementing drought relief measures. Over 4,000 of them from villages across Chikkaballapur, Doddaballapur, Sidlaghatta, Bagepalli, Gowribiddanur, Chandapura, and in and around Kolar and Hoskote drove their tractors to participate in the protest aiming for an immediate resolution.

“Our ministers have enough time in the assembly to discuss over a watch for an entire day, but no time to discuss about what to do with the stalled Yettinahole project or other drought relief measures for us farmers,” said R. Krishnappa, a farmer from Mandikal Hobli in Chikkaballapura. “The project envisages diverting the water from a tributary of Netravathi River in Hassan district during peak monsoon and bring it to the drought prone Chikkaballapur, Kolar, Tumkur and Bangalore rural districts. A watch is more important than discussing the river diversion project that was mooted by Dr. GS Paramashivaiah, farmer Krishnappa added.

According to the farmers, the city traffic police, had in the morning granted permission for around 500 tractors to enter the city to peacefully protest at the Freedom Park, but as time went by, the farmers changed their mind to gather around Vidhana Soudha and CM's residence, which made the situation turn volatile resulting in the rioting.

Initially, the farmers who gathered at the Rani Circle in Devanahalli started moving towards the toll booth where they were filtered by the traffic police who allowed restricted the number of vehicles, but allowed all the farmers to pass through to Yelahanka. There were groups of farmers gathered at Bangalore Palace near Gayathri Hall, Freedom Park and the point where the rioting started was the Cauvery Theatre junction.

Immediately after the police resorted to lathi charge, the agitators resorted to vandalizing government vehicles including police vehicles and ran helter-skelter abandoning their tractors. The police had to tow away the tractors to clear traffic and admit the injured to the hospital.

Leaders taken into custody
Some leaders who were taken into police custody included - former minster Bhadre Gowda, K.V.N Nagaraj, Director of Dairy in Chikkaballapur district, Kodihalli Chandrashekar, president of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, Bhaktarahalli Byre Gowda, Raitha Sangha president, Anjaneya Reddy, president, Shashvata Neeravari Horaata Samithi, and Harish Malluru, a chief activist who led the protest.

Minor injuries
They had regular soft tissue injuries and no bone injuries. However, two of them have had x-rays after which the hospital orthopaedicians will decide whether to discharge them or not later," a hospital official said.

9 flights delayed, Airlines wait for passengers
Around nine flights got delayed on Thursday at the Kempegowda International Airport, affecting over 300 passengers and their schedules, said airport authorities adding that all of them were domestic airline carriers. Flights belonging to carriers Indigo, Jet, SpiceJet, and Air-Asia got delayed due to the farmers’ agitation as the airlines decided to wait for passengers for a considerable time. The airlines had also communicated with their respective patrons about the changed timings of their flights due to the protests.

The Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) authorities had informed about the farmers' agitation on Thursday to the airlines and also had communicated to them about the passengers who could arrive late for boarding, and hence it was a decision by the airlines to 'wait' for the passengers with some of them even being accommodated in the subsequent flights available to the same destinations by their own carriers.

Police exercised restraint: DG & IGP
The Director General and Inspector General of Police (DG-IGP) Omprakash said they have tried their best to prevent a major law and order situation and the police functioned with maximum restraint. All top officials from the department were present when the agitators were trying to enter the city at Devanahalli taking the Ballari Road.

Initially about 40 tractors came. Our men stopped them and ensured that they were parked on the side of the road. But later more vehicles came in and this created the problem. We tried to explain them the government order about not to allow such vehicles, but some of these vehicles went over the centre medians and barricades and almost ran over a police man before entering the city. All along the way into the main city, we tried to convince them from entering the core areas.

At Cauvery Theatre junction and Windsor Manor junction there were stone pelting incidents and we had to intervene. During this time, there was commotion and police had to use lathis to bring the situation under control.

During this time about five police men and five farmers were injured. At the same time, few agitators at Freedom Park wanted to join the crowd on Ballari Road and we had to detain them, the police chief said. As many as 250 tractors, 150 two-wheelers, two mini trucks entered the city and out of them 35 have been detained. Around eight BMTC buses got damaged.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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