The Centre on Friday said it was considering the demands made by farmer unions on protest for nine days and expressed confidence of a breakthrough in fifth round of talks scheduled for Saturday. Hardening their position on the eve of the meeting, agitating farmers have announced a 'Bharat Bandh' on December 8 and threatened to intensify the protests.
In an interview to News18, Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar sought to assure farmers that their fears of the minimum support price (MSP) being scrapped were unfounded. “I assure the farmers that there will be no change in the MSP. Ready to give this in writing as well if the unions want. Strengthening the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) is also our priority,” he said.
Cautioning against politicisation of the issue, Tomar said the government is considering the demands made by the protesting farmers. “We want resolution through talks. We are moving towards ending the deadlock. Most farmers unions are from Punjab. No politics should be done here,” the minister said.
Delhi's border points remained choked on Friday as thousands of farmers from Haryana, Punjab, and other states held demonstrations for the ninth consecutive day, after talks with the government failed to yield any resolution on Thursday. The farmer community has expressed apprehension that the new laws are "anti-farmer", and would pave the way for dismantling of the MSP system, leaving them at the "mercy" of big corporations.
However, the government has maintained that the new laws will bring better opportunities for farmers and usher in new technologies in agriculture.
Addressing a press conference earlier in the day, farmer leader Gurnam Singh Chadoni said if the Centre does not accept their demands during Saturday's talks, they will intensify their agitation against the new farm laws.
Harvinder Singh Lakhwal, another farmer leader, said the unions have decided to call a ‘Bharat Bandh’ on December 8, Tuesday. “In our meeting today, we have decided to give a 'Bharat Bandh' call on December 8 during which we will also occupy all toll plazas. We have planned to block all roads leading to Delhi in the coming days if the new farm laws are not scrapped," Lakhwal said.
Rakesh Tikait, spokesperson of Bharat Kisan Union, which is spearheading the protest at the Delhi-Ghazipur border, said, "Farmers want the government to take back the laws and make a fresh draft. Currently, it is for the corporates. The law should be for the farmers and they must be consulted. Either the government will agree to our requests tomorrow or we will keep protesting. More farmers are ready to come here."
President of Tarai Kisan Sangathan Tejinder Singh Virk resonated the same sentiment. "If the government does not accept our demands tomorrow, we will choke the supply of milk, vegetables and fruits going to the national capital. Blocking the roads was a mere first step. We will decide on the next step tomorrow," he said.
Plea Against Protest in SC
A petition moved in the Supreme Court on Friday sought the immediate removal of protesting farmers alleging that "they are blocking roads to hamper emergency/medical services".
Delhi resident Rishabh Sharma said in his plea that the removal of the farmers from their protest sites was also necessary in view of the fears of community spread of Covid-19.
The plea claimed that more than 3 lakh farmers had gathered on the Delhi borders and protesting against new farm laws, despite government advisory against public gatherings not exceeding 50 people.
The petitioner urged the top court to issue directions for the immediate removal/ dispersal of such mass gatherings of protestors on the Delhi borders and shifting them to the place already allotted by the Delhi Police in view of immediate threat of spread of the coronavirus infection.
Farmer Leader Rajewal Complains of Dizziness
Prominent farmer leader and Bharatiya Kisan Union president Balbir Singh Rajewal, who has been holding talks with the Centre, complained of dizziness on Friday and was taken to Fortis Hospital in Gurugram for a check-up.
Rajewal, 77, was among a group of more than 34 farmer leaders who put out a five-point set of demands that seeks to frame a specific law on MSP and end the punishment provision for stubble burning, during Thursday’s talks with the central government.
BKU general secretary Onkar Singh said that after undergoing certain tests, Rajewal was declared “perfect in health”.
Mamata Dials Protesting Farmers
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Friday spoke to various farmers' groups protesting at Delhi's Singhu border and assured them that the TMC stands by them, party leader Derek O'Brien said. O’Brien, who spent almost four hours with the agitating farmers, facilitated the interactions over the phone.
"The CM spoke to the farmers. Four telephone calls to different groups from Haryana and Punjab, they shared their demands and they were clear that they wanted the farm bills (laws) repealed," O'Brien said. "They also thanked the CM for her show of solidarity. They also expressed their gratitude for all her support to farmers and land movements in the past," he said.
India on Friday summoned the Canadian High Commissioner and conveyed to him that the comments made by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and some other leaders there on the farmers' agitation constituted an "unacceptable interference" in the country's internal affairs. The Canadian diplomat was also told that such actions, if continued, would have a "seriously damaging" impact on the bilateral ties, the external affairs ministry said.
Trudeau, backing the agitating farmers in India, had said that Canada will always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protests, and expressed concern over the situation.
"The Canadian High Commissioner was summoned to the Ministry of External Affairs today and informed that comments by the Canadian Prime Minister, some Cabinet Ministers and members of Parliament on issues relating to Indian farmers constitute an unacceptable interference in our internal affairs," the MEA said, adding a demarche was made to the envoy.