New Delhi: Thousands of farmers entered Delhi and marched towards Kisan Ghat, the memorial of Chaudhary Charan Singh, after midnight as the police removed barricades and unsealed the border after the protesters threatened to break them open by force.
The farmers had been stopped from entering the national capital on Tuesday morning, leading to clashes between the farmers and police in which several people, including a few cops were injured. Police had fired tear gas shells and used water cannons to halt the agitating farmers as the peaceful march took a violent turn.
The farmers were protesting as part of their "Kisan Kranti Padyatra" to seek the implementation of the recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers. Their demands, 11 in total, included loan waiver, subsidised electricity and fuel, pension for farmers above 60 and minimum support price for crops among other things.
Talks between the government and the farmers had failed and the protesters had refused to go back, saying the government's assurance to look into their demands was not satisfactory. The protesters said the government had ceded to only seven out of the 11 demands and was behaving as if it was a "financial negotiation".
As the night drew on, the protesters dug in, warning that they would stay put and continue their protest on Wednesday and even more farmers would join in. Around 3,000 policemen were deployed in the area to maintain a strict vigil. As a preventive measure, all schools and colleges in Ghaziabad were also closed for Wednesday, officials said. The order was issued by District Magistrate Ritu Maheshwari.
But after midnight, Bharatiya Kisan Union chief Naresh Tikait, who was leading the agitation, gave a clarion call to farmers to wake up and break the police barriers. "We are marching to Kisan Ghat right away," he announced over loudspeakers.
Fearing a repeat of Tuesday morning's clash, the administration relented and unsealed the Delhi-UP border, allowing the protesting farmers to march to central Delhi.
The government arranged buses for those farmers whose tractors were damaged in the clashes, while many others decided to walk instead, saying that had been marching on foot since September 23 from Haridwar and they would complete the march on foot only.
The farmers would now stay at the Kisan Ghat overnight and resume talks with the government on Wednesday morning.
The protesters had appeared ready to stay put at the border with hundreds of tractors and trolleys with food, water, mattresses and even generators parked alongside the roads for over a kilometre of distance. They kept raising slogans against the government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
While the Opposition blamed the Modi government for what they called a "brutal police action" against farmers on way to Rajghat on Gandhi Jayanti for a peaceful protest, the police said it used "minimal force" to disperse the crowd and to maintain law and order in the national capital.
As leaders from opposition parties accused the government of adopting an "anti-farmer" stand by stopping the protesters, the central government went into a huddle to find out ways to end the stir.
It had called an emergency meeting under chairmanship of Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday afternoon.
Union Minister of State for Agriculture Gajendra Singh Shekhawat was rushed to meet the protesting farmers. While some farmer groups agreed to consider the assurances given by the government, others said they were not "satisfied" and decided to continue with their protest.
The government said a review petition will be filed against the National Green Tribunal's order to ban diesel vehicles that are over 10 years old and several other measures will be taken to pacify agitating farmers and address their concerns.
Protesters put their mattresses on the roads itself and proceeded to sleep, while policemen maintained vigil. (Photo: Rounak Kumar Gunjan)
The Centre also assured farmers that it would fix the minimum support prices (MSP) of rabi (winter-sown) crops like wheat at least 1.5 times of the production cost. It would also try to restrict imports of agri items that are produced abundant in the country.
Shekhawat said a committee of chief ministers will also look into the farmers' demand, as he sought to assure the protesters that the government will take forward their cause.
"Representatives of farmers along with ministers of UP government Laxmi Narayan and Suresh Rana held discussions on a range of issues at Rajnath Singh's residence. After that a consent was reached on some issues. The government has agreed to some of your demands," Shekhawat said.
The minister said he has been associated with farmers' issues and he could say with "certainty" on Lal Bahadur Shastri's birth anniversary that there have been only a few successful agitations like this in the past.
BKU chief Naresh Tikait, however, said the farmers are "not satisfied" with the government's assurance. "This has not been a good decision. All important demands have not been accepted and we are not satisfied with this assurance," he said.
“Our main demands of electricity, sugarcane recommendations of Swaminathan report remain as it is. These were among main demands of the farmers," Tikait said. "We will discuss this and then decide on future course of action. I cannot decide anything alone, our committee will take the decision," he added.
Delhi Police officials said seven policemen, including an assistant commissioner, were injured as protesting farmers turned violent while trying to enter the city from Uttar Pradesh in defiance of prohibitory orders, which have been in place since yesterday.
As it drew flak for what the opposition parties termed as "brutal" action against the protesters, the police said it used only "minimum required force" to control the situation.
Police said a section of protesters suddenly turned violent as the cops tried to persuade them not to break the barricades. Some farmers, riding tractors and trolleys, broke barricades of the UP Police and then started proceeding towards the barricades put up by the Delhi Police, a senior police officer said.