Protesting farmer leaders send an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar urging them not to discredit the farmers’ protest by spreading disinformation and rejecting the ‘assurances’ given by the government

Published : December 21, 2020 13:58 IST

At a community kitchen at the site of the protest against the farm laws, at Singhu border near New Delhi on December 21. Photo: DANISH SIDDIQUI/REUTERS

The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), which represents over 500 farmer organisations, has sent a strongly worded letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar. It said in the letter that in the name of addressing the farmers’ demands, Modi and Tomar had attacked the farmers’ movement, that they had little sympathy for the agitating farmers and had no intention of addressing their problems.

The Prime Minister, during his public meetings in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, had said that the farmers’ protest was of recent origin even though the farm laws had been around for several months and that there were political forces behind the agitation.

Narendra Singh Tomar had also expressed a similar opinion and had sent an eight-point “open letter” to farmer unions a few days ago. The letter, titled “Assurances to the producers”, had promised the following to the farmers: a guaranteed Minimum Support Price (MSP); the right of the farmers to approach courts for dispute resolution; powers to State governments to register purchase and other agriculture related agreements; and protection of farmers’ land. The AIKSCC said that these promises were all contrary to what was stated in the three farm laws.

Debunking the assertions of the Prime Minister and the Union Agriculture Minister, the AIKSCC expressed concern that their comments would give rise to misgivings in the minds of the common people about the farmers and the peaceful nature of their democratic protests. It pointed out that the utterances by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leadership and the Prime Minister were based on wrong assumptions and faulty information.

It said that the protests were not of recent origin as alleged. Concerns regarding the laws were sent to the Prime Minister’s Office and Union Agriculture Minister several months ago when the farm ordinances were promulgated in June. The protests picked up momentum first in Punjab and several BJP leaders from Punjab resigned in support of the farmers’ demand. The truth, stated the AIKSCC, was that it was the farmers’ agitation that had compelled political parties to change their stance and not the other way round. As an illustration, the AIKSCC pointed out how the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a constituent of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), quit the ruling coalition at the centre on the issue of the farm laws.

It said no consultations were held with the farmers’ unions and State governments. The ordinances were a “jhatka” (a bolt from the blue) and the farm Bills were also rushed through Parliament. These “shocks” by the government prompted the farmers coming out in large numbers.

Addressing Narendra Singh Tomar separately in the same letter, the AIKSCC responded to some of the specific points he had mentioned in his “open letter” sent to the farmer unions earlier. They said that references in his letter to “conspiracies by political parties and organisations”, “Congress Party”, “Aam Aadmi Party”, “Akali Dal”, “vote gathering politics”, “release of those accused in the Delhi riots”, “insult to Mahatma Gandhi”, “1962 war”, and so on did not have any connection with the farmers’ agitation as no farmer union had raised any of these issues with the government. The AIKSCC letter said that these were all unrelated issues which were meant to divert attention from the real demands of the farmers and that the assurance by the government that the farmers would not end up losing their land was misleading.

The letter drew attention to Section 9 of the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 that provides a legal framework for contract farming agreements. It stated that the input costs funded by the sponsor company would be organised/lent under a separate agreement with lending agencies which would be based on the mortgage of farm land. Under Section 14 and 14(2) of the Act relating to dispute settlement, if a farmer borrowed from the company to meet the input costs, orders could be passed for the recovery of the costs which would end up eventually in the mortgage of land.

Secondly, the amount payable under any order of the Sub-Divisional Authority “may be recovered as arrears of land revenue” under Section 14(7) of the Act. The letter pointed out that the claims about timely payment to the farmers from companies for the produce under the Act were also incorrect. For instance, the Act stipulated that payment would be made only after the agricultural produce satisfied several quality requirements and criteria. The experience of the sugarcane farmers, the open letter said, was proof that there would be no guarantee of timely payment. The assertion made by the Minister that an MSP at the rate of one and a half times the input costs had been paid to farmers was incorrect as the government itself had admitted in court that it could not pay the prescribed MSP. There were more than 23 crops for which there was no MSP even at the reduced rate.

Rebutting the Minister’s claim that the government had done a lot for farmers’ welfare and that it had spent Rs. 1 lakh crore on building rural infrastructure, the AIKSCC’s letter said it only benefitted a handful of companies and that the amount could have been given instead to co-operatives to help farmers with irrigation facilities, tractors, input material, storage, transport and even marketing. These laws would ensure that the farmer was expelled from his own land, said the letter.

The Agriculture Minister had also insinuated that the farmer protests had insulted the memory of Gandhi and the Champaran satyagraha of 1917 against forcible indigo cultivation by the British. In response to this, the letter stated that the present movement was in fact inspired by the Champaran movement, the 1907 “Pagari Sambhal Jatta” movement against land grabbing in Punjab and several other movements for Independence. “We had hoped that you would pay homage to the 32 farmers who have died in the course of the 24 day indefinite agitation. But your insensitivity is so limitless that you could not even find the words to even mention their martyrdom,” said the letter.

Meanwhile, farmer unions paid homage to the farmers who had died in the course of the protests. Over 90,000 meetings were held, spread across 22 States. Despite icy winds and chilling temperatures, more and more farmers are pouring in to join the protest sites at Singhu, Tikri, Ghazipur and Shahjahanpur on the Haryana-Rajasthan border and Chilla at the Noida-Delhi border. Under the banner of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), 2,500 farmers will leave Nashik on December 21 by road in a “Vehicle Morcha” to join the protesting farmers in Delhi. In a separate development, the farmer unions condemned the raids by the Enforcement Directorate and other Central agencies on APMC commissioning agents, or Arhatiyas, in Punjab.