The government on Sunday wrote to the protesting farmer unions inviting them for the next round of talks and asked them to choose a convenient date. In a letter to the union leaders, agriculture ministry joint secretary Vivek Aggarwal said, “I request those previously invited protesting union leaders to provide details of their remaining concerns and doubts and suggest a date as per convenience for next round of talks."
Previous five rounds of formal talks between the government and 40 farmer unions have failed to break the deadlock with the farmers insisting on repeal of the Centre’s three laws and camping at various border points of Delhi for over three weeks now.
The government intends to convene the next meeting at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi for resolving the issue so that the ongoing protests end at the earliest, Aggarwal said. He said the Centre is making all efforts to find appropriate solution to resolve all the issues raised by the farmers with an open mind.
Thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana, UP and some other states are protesting against the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act. Enacted in September, the three farm laws have been projected by the central government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove the middlemen and allow farmers to sell anywhere in the country.
However, the protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of Minimum Support Price and do away with the mandi system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.
Relay Hunger Strike
Farmer unions have announced a day-long relay hunger strike on Monday at all protest sites to press for the repeal of the laws. Farmers in Punjab and Haryana as well as those protesting on Delhi’s borders observed ‘Shradhanjali Diwas’ on Sunday to pay homage to their brethren “who died during the ongoing agitation".
Farmers’ bodies have claimed that over 30 farmers participating in the stir have died due to different reasons including heart attack and road accidents. The farmers performed ‘ardaas’ (prayer) and in some places they also took out protest marches against the Centre.
“Farmers will begin a day-long relay hunger strike on Monday at all sites of protest against the new agri laws. It will be started by a team of 11 members at protests sites here," Swaraj India chief Yogendra Yadav said at a press conference at the Singhu border.
He also urged people demonstrating against the laws across the country to observe a day-long hunger strike at their respective protest sites. Farmer leader Jagjeet Singh Dalewala said farmers will not allow toll collection on highways in Haryana from December 25 to 27. “From December 25 to 27 all toll booths in Haryana will not be allowed by us to collect toll. We will prevent them from doing so.
“On December 27, our prime minister will say his ‘Mann ki Baat’ and we want to appeal to people to beat ‘thalis’ during his address," the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader said, referring to the PM’s monthly radio address. Farmer leader Rakesh Tikait said that farmers protesting the new agri laws will observe Kisan Diwas on December 23 and “we request people to not cook lunch for a day".
Foreign Funding Row
Amid the deadlock, Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), one of Punjab’s largest farmer organisations involved in the stir, said it has been asked by a central agency to submit its registration details which allow it to receive foreign funds, and alleged that it was being targeted by the Centre. The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) stipulates mandatory registration of any outfit receiving foreign funds.
“A department under the Centre has sent an email which we received through our bank’s branch in Punjab. In the e-mail, it was stated that we should give registration details in respect of these donations from abroad, otherwise they will be sent back,” the outfit’s general secretary Sukhdev Singh. Questioning the timing of the move, Singh said, “They are using all tactics as their sole purpose is to defeat the agitation.” Asked how much foreign funds they had received recently, Singh said they are yet to calculate the exact amount.
“The I-T Department first conducted raids on ‘Arhtiyas’ (commission agents) because they are supporting the farmers’ agitation. Now, as our outfit is a big one, the Centre is targeting us,” alleged BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan) president Joginder Ugrahan. “They are asking for details about NRI funds. The NRIs from Punjab help us with donations from their hard-earned money. They are supporting our agitation, what is the problem with that? Back home too, people support us,” the BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan) chief said.
Several BJP leaders, including union ministers, have alleged that the agitation has been hijacked by Leftists, Maoists and separatists, a charge denied by the unions. Addressing an event in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath attacked the opposition parties, alleging that they were misleading the farmers by falsely claiming that the MSP system will end after the new laws are implemented. Union Minister VK Singh on Sunday said the agitation was “more political" in nature and underlined the NDA government’s intent to ensure the welfare of the ryots.
Speaking to reporters ahead of his interaction with farmers in Tamil Nadu, the minister claimed that “actual farmers are very happy with what has been done in last six months."
“Lot of misconceptions are being given where farmer issues are concerned. Farmers all over India mostly are happy, actual farmers are very happy with what has been done," he said. The opposition Samajwadi Party Party said it will conduct a special drive on December 25 when its leaders will go to villages in Uttar Pradesh to spread awareness on the “anti-farmer policies" of the BJP-led governments.
Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Ajay Kumar Lallu said that his party would continue its fight for farmers until the laws are withdrawn. “The agitation by the farmers is a fallout of BJP’s politics of lies and deceit. The Congress will continue to fight for the farmers until the farm laws are withdrawn," Lallu said.
Meanwhile, traffic movement on the Jaipur-Delhi highway remained partially affected for the eighth consecutive day due to the protests. The carriageway has been blocked for traffic and Delhi-bound vehicles are being diverted through other routes, a police officer said.
Thousands of farmers protesting at Delhi borders against the Centre’s new agri laws remained firm on their demand of repealing the legislation. The sit-ins continued as the city recorded its coldest morning this season, with the mercury dipping to 3.4 degrees Celsius on Sunday.
The farmers’ agitation, which has entered its fourth week, has also led to traffic diversions at various border points causing inconvenience to commuters. Farmers are protesting against the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act. Enacted in September, the three farm laws have been projected by the central government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove the middlemen and allow farmers to sell anywhere in the country.
However, the protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of Minimum Support Price and do away with the mandi system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates. The Centre has repeatedly asserted that MSP and mandi system will stay.