Rakesh Tikait dares NHAI to evict farmers from expressway

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Two letters written by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) resonated around the UP Gate agitation site on Wednesday as farmer leader Rakesh Tikait dared the central agency to make a move to evict the protesters, saying: “Sarkar to khali nahin kara saki to NHAI kis khet ki muli hai (When the state couldn’t evict us, who is NHAI?)”

In the letters Tikait referred to, the NHAI had urged the Ghaziabad administration to clear the Delhi-Meerut Expressway, citing damage to the road and power thefts. “I have said from an open platform that the administration and power department should provide us with power connections at the protest site and we are ready to pay for it at commercial rates,” Tikait said.

The BKU leader had in the last week of January defied an eviction notice served by the UP government in an emotional call to farmers to join him, which led to a massive remobilisation of protesters to

Delhi’s borders after the agitation appeared to have lost steam following the January 26 tractor rally bedlam in Delhi.

Neither of the letters is very recent – one was sent in the last week of December and the other on January 27. NHAI project director Mudit Garg said, “We have written two letters to the district magistrate of Ghaziabad to clear the DME of protesters as it was damaged by burning firewood and digging to erect poles. In the letters, we had also said the protesters are indulging in power theft from streetlights and using it to run washing machines and other electrical appliances.”

Garg added that on February 13, the NHAI had received a complaint on the grievance redress portal about the blockade causing a lot of inconvenience to residents, who have been forced since the time the agitation began in the last week of November to take time-consuming detours. “We apprised this to the district magistrate and reminded him of the two letters written to him in the past,” said Garg.

The agitation will also have an impact on the commissioning of the second and fourth phases of the DME, which was scheduled for February-end.

In an interaction with reporters, meanwhile, Tikait referred to the Punjab civic poll results, where Congress won convincingly, to tell the Centre to read the mood of people. “The government should understand which way the wind is blowing and should look at finding a solution to the farmers’ protest,” he said, adding farmers from UP Gate would on Thursday participate in the ‘rail roko’ agitation between noon and 4pm. “Protesting farmers will visit the nearest railway stations and offer tea, milk and fruits to passengers to create awareness about our protest,” said Tikait.

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