Farmers serve ultimatum to government to repeal farm laws, reject demand for panel on MSP, resolve to intensify protests from January 6

Published : January 02, 2021 21:55 IST

At the press conference by farmers' organisations in Delhi on January 2. Photo: T.K. Rajalakshmi

A seven-member coordination committee representing the Samyukta Kisan Morcha on January 2 issued an ultimatum to the Central government to repeal the three controversial farm laws against which farmers have been agitating for the past 38 days or face a series of protests and sit-ins. More than 50 farmers have died since the protests began in November.

At a press conference held in central Delhi, the committee announced a slew of protest events slated for the period from January 6 to January 20. They include a nationwide awareness campaign “to expose the government and its farm policies” and a tractor-trolley march in Delhi on January 26 to observe a “Farmers’ Republic Parade Day”. January 26 will mark two months of the Dilli Chalo agitation.The committee said that the government had two options before it: take back the “unasked for gift” (three farm laws) and give a legal guarantee of procurement at the minimum support price (MSP) or unleash lathis and bullets on farmers. It was a do-or-die battle and they had arrived at a decisive stage, the committee said. Darshan Pal, a committee member, said: “If the talks on January 4 do not lead to a repeal of the laws, there will be a tractor march on the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway on January 6.” He added that the farmers on the Haryana-Rajasthan border at the Shahjahanpur-Khera point would also move towards Delhi.

On January 13, which coincides with the festival of Lohri in north India, the protesters plan to observe a “Farmers Pledge Day” and burn copies of the three farm laws.

On January 23, they plan to observe the birthday of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose as “Azad Hind Farmers’ Day” and organise sit-ins outside the residences of Governors in the States.

At the press conference the farmer leaders said they were angry that the government continued to be obdurate and tried to portray as if half of the demands had been met.

A leader said: “There is no written proposal on even those two points and the government continues to be adamant on the main issue, that of repealing the laws. It seems as if the government has made this a prestige issue. The government has not given its assent, even in principle, for a legal assurance on MSP and procurement. The government has tested our patience in this bitter cold. Even now if the government doesn’t agree, we have no choice but to enter Delhi.”

At the last meeting held on December 30 with the farmers, the seventh round of deliberations, the government seemingly agreed to two of the four demands placed by the farmers’ representatives.

However, there was no written commitment on the demands it agreed to: holding back of the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020 and exempting farmers from the provisions of the Commission for the Air Quality Management in the NCR and Adjoining Regions Ordinance 2020. Also, these demands were of lower priority for the farmers’ groups.

Gurnam Singh Chaduni of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), Haryana, one of the committee members, said that even on December 8, when the farmers met Home Minister Amit Shah and asked whether the government would commit to a legal framework for an MSP and guaranteed procurement, the Minister replied in the negative. In the latest meeting of December 30, the farmers asked the same question to the government representatives and received a similar response.

Chaduni said: “When the government has no intention of procuring, then why mislead us by saying that they will continue to give at MSP rates?” He gave the example of the procurement of maize, for which an MSP was declared but which was being sold at half of the declared rate. “It is our right, not an extra demand,” he added.

On the government’s argument that it would be a financial drain to declare MSPs for all crops and procure them, the farmer leaders said that the government could afford to declare so many institutional loans as non-performing assets but it was worried about financial resources only when it came to farmers.

Jagjit Singh Dallewal of BKU (Punjab), also a committee member, said: “If the government stretches the issue, there will be political consequences too.”

Ashok Dhawale, president of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), told the media that the protests had acquired an all-India character. He cited the example of Kerala where the government had passed a unanimous resolution in the State Assembly rejecting the farm laws. He said: “Four and a half lakh farmers have committed suicide, according to the government’s own data. If farmer suicides have to stop, the MSP and procurement is very important.”

The AIKS had mobilised 2,500 farmers from Maharashtra who travelled by road to join the protest at Shahjahanpur. The AIKS, like the BKU fronts, is also a member of the delegation representing the farmers in talks with the government.

Abhimanyu Kohad of the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, an organisation which had mobilised farmers in Madhya Pradesh against the farm laws, lamented the fact that the government was not concerned about the farmers who had died and was even refusing to call them “martyrs”.

He said the government had propped up fake farmers’ organisations; for instance, some of them turned out to be employees of pesticide and seed departments in Punjab. In Haryana, he said, the “farmers” who were found favouring the laws turned out to be members of newly constituted Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs).

Another farmer leader, Rajinder Singh of the Kirti Kisan Union, said that the “image the Prime Minister was trying to salvage had already been sullied” as there was a lot of resentment against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies.

All eyes are on January 4 when the next round of meetings is to be held with the farmers, although there is little expectation that the government will relent.

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