Over 20 persons, mostly farmer leaders, were arrested by the Yavatmal Police on Saturday for allegedly violating Covid-19 restrictions by gathering at a city ground in an attempt to hold a farmers’ rally.
The leaders from different parts of the state had announced about a week ago that they had organised a Kisan Mahapanchayat under the banner of Sanyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) at Yavatmal, to be addressed by Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait. But with a sharp upsurge of Covid-19 cases in the district, Yavatmal authorities had refused them permission twice for the programme. The farmer leaders, however, had said they would go ahead with the programme as scheduled on February 20.
On Friday, Sandip Gidde, state coordinator for SKM, had said that Tikait was coming for the programme despite refusal of permission. But later in the night, Gidde told mediapersons that Tikait had cancelled his trip after a caller, who identified himself as the Yavatmal superintendent of police (SP), informed him that he would be quarantined for 14 days after he arrives in Yavatmal.
Gidde had termed it as a “conspiracy” but had also said that the SP, Dilip Bhujbal, had refuted that he had made any calls to Tikait.
The farmer leaders, however, decided to go ahead and travel to Yavatmal. On Saturday, they left Nagpur and reached Wardha along the way, where they addressed a crowd at a pandal, where farmers have been staging a protest for the past few days.
“We have booked them under Section 188 for violating prohibitory orders against gathering of over 50 persons. There were only a handful of them but several onlookers from the adjoining weekly market crowded the place,” said Wardha SP Prashant Holkar.
“They had earlier sought permission for the programme, which we had refused,” added Holkar.
As the farmer leaders proceeded towards Yavatmal, rumours of Tikait reaching Yavatmal also started doing the rounds. When contacted, Gidde told The Indian Express, “Tikait has reached Yavatmal border in disguise and we will soon join him to enter Yavatmal.”
Asked how Tikait managed to reach Yavatmal, Gidde said, “His flight on Friday, scheduled to reach Nagpur around 8.30 pm, was cancelled. So, he travelled by car.”
But Gidde and others reached Yavatmal without Tikait. At Azad Maidan in Yavatmal,where they had planned the Kisan Mahapanchayat, the leaders raised slogans in an empty ground. “Even the local farmer leaders had stayed away as we had refused permission. But the leaders from outside reached there in a few vehicles and started raising slogans. Our men on bandobast rounded them up. We have arrested them under various provisions of the Epidemic Act, Disaster Management Act and IPC,” said Bhujbal.
When contacted, Tikait said, “I was told that I would be quarantined for 14 days after landing there. So, I decided not to go. But I would certainly go there some other time.”
Asked about rumours of his reaching Yavatmal in disguise, as told by Maharashtra leaders, Tikait said, “They should not have said such things when they knew I was at Delhi. I will talk to them.”
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