Digging in for the summer


In a bid to handle the heat, protesting farmers at Delhi’s borders are setting up ‘trolley colonies’ and semi-permanent structures that have been fitted with desert coolers and air conditioners

Protesting farmers at Delhi’s borders are relying on their innovative skills to tackle the impending summer, and encouraging empathetic collaboration to ensure a good harvest back home.

The agitation against the three contentious farm laws began over 100 days ago. At the start, roads leading up to the protest sites were packed with tractors. But the numbers have dipped slightly as the machines are needed back in the villages for harvest season. The number of trollies, however, has increased and they are at the core of the changing landscape at the protest sites.

Innovations range from RO purification-enabled submersible water devices, 500-litre water storage tanks filled with buttermilk, air-conditioned semi-permanent structures with their own sewerage system, trollies with desert coolers, and trenches to keep water from entering tents during the monsoon.

‘Trolley colonies’ have sprung up around semi-permanent structures laden with wet jute bags that will cool the air through portable fans, and submersible pumps are being installed along NH 9 to help create bathrooms for women protesters.

At the Singhu border protest site, trollies have been fitted with desert coolers and even air conditioners. A dental clinic near the main stage has started distributing medicines from inside a semi-permanent structure and is also fitted with an air conditioner.

Fans are being brought to the Tikri and Ghazipur border protest sites to cool the tents. Multiple 500-litre water tanks are replenished several times a day with lassi or buttermilk at the Tikri border and, like in Ghazipur, more bathing areas have also been created there. Both sites have also received additional washing machines.

Summer plan

Semi-permanent tents are being pitched not only to counter the heat but to also provide accommodation for farmers staying at the Singhu border without trollies. Ply-based and ready-made structures that can accommodate around 10-15 people have also been procured.

Meanwhile, several patches of vacant land along NH 9 have been cleared of shrubbery and rocks to make way for trollies covered with tarpaulin and plastic sheets parked in a rectangular pattern – each seemingly constituting a separate “room” surrounded by porous green cloth – forming mini dwellings with elderly farmers resting on mattresses placed in the middle. The vacant plots are covered in trees that provide some relief from the sun.

Rohtash Kumar from Bhiwani said semi-permanent structures such as sheds for tractors, and trollies laden with supplies, are coming up along the highway. The already-erected tents will see slight modifications as the mercury rises.

“Some of our tents have multiple arrangements, including a kitchen and sleeping area. Then, there are the larger tents, which are used to store vegetables and other edibles… We are covering the tin ceilings of sheds for our vehicles with jute bags, and will put cardboard ceilings on the smaller tents for the summer. The larger ones will be covered by jute sheets which will be kept wet around the clock and have fans to keep the edibles cool,” he said.

Luvpreet Singh from Fatehabad led the way to a large ‘tractor colony’ that has been set up on a recently-cleared vacant plot. The encampment is preparing for the arrival of women protesters. “The owner of the land is a farmer like us. Not only did he give us permission to use the plot but also allowed us to build semi-permanent structures,” Mr. Singh said.

Suresh Goswami from Jind in Punjab, who has been camping along the NH 9 since late November last year, said large fans that are used on farms will be placed next to the semi-permanent structures. They will be covered with wet jute sheets to keep them cool. “Since it is proving slightly difficult to gather water on a daily basis, we have made arrangements to ensure our own water supply by installing submersible pumps. Around a dozen have been set up and we will instal a total of 50 by April. We will not leave till the laws are repealed,” he said.

Community harvest

“The number of tractors is about the same as when the agitation started but sometimes tractors do need to go back to villages since the fields are being watered for the fourth time before the harvest,” said Virender Singh from Hisar, whose tent is among the many occupying the divider on NH 9 near the Rohtak bypass.

“We have assigned duties for this. For example, one brother waters the fields and then comes here on the family tractor so the other can go back. If the family tractor is not available for some reason, a trolley – sometimes even two – take its place here,” he added.

Gurdeep Singh from Patiala said though the harvest season was still a month away, farmers were in the process of making adjustments and arrangements so they did not face issues once the harvest began.

Village panchayats have played a significant role in helping households reach an understanding regarding the pooling and sharing of resources, he said, adding: “Once the harvest begins, farmers will be sharing their resources with each other to ensure the process is completed smoothly. Each village has sent around 50 tractors and trolleys. There are hundreds that are still in the villages and that should suffice for the season.”

Manjeet Singh Shergill from Bahal village said their goal to get the controversial laws repealed necessitated willingness to be able to fight for a long duration. “Usually, each household has at least two tractors and trolleys. In case a family faces some kind of a shortage due to the protest, other villagers are more than willing to share. Had there been a logistical issue, we would not have brought tractors here in the first place,” Mr. Shergill said.

Jatvinder Singh from Hoshiarpur said only half of the tractors and trollies in his village had come to the protest. “In our village, we have around 200-250 tractors and trolleys. Out of that, only about 100 are here. We have also started putting up tents as there is uncertainty over how long this will continue,” he said, adding: “In case some of us are required to take back our trolleys for a few days, with the tents installed, there accommodation will be sorted.”

There is a sense of community sharing in the villages and there were enough resources back home for the upcoming harvest, Ramandeep Singh from Patiala said, adding: “Recently, a farmer from our village found himself without a tractor which he required for harvesting potato. His neighbours arrived with seven tractors to compensate for the one tractor that is stationed at the Singhu border protest site.”

Sukhjeet Singh Sidhu from Ajrawar village said people were more than ready to help each other out given the ongoing agitation. “Currently, it is harvest season for potato and sugarcane. Once those farmers are done, they will replace us at the borders. There are a large number of trolleys in our villages, it is unlikely that we will need to take back the trolleys stationed at the protest sites,” he said.

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