New Delhi: Agitating farmers on Monday claimed that there is nothing new in the Centre’s latest letter to them seeking a date for the next round of talks, as they held a day-long ‘relay’ hunger strike at all protest sites on Delhi’s borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to press their demand for the repeal of the contentious agri laws.
The farmer leaders are expected to meet on Tuesday to discuss the next plan of action, Gurmeet Singh of Krantikari Kisan Union said, amid efforts by the unions to draw support from farmers in other states like Bihar for their demand to enact a law assuring Minimum Support Price.
The opposition too stepped up the pressure with the Shiromani Akali Dal demanding an emergency Parliament session to annul the new laws, while the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala has decided to convene a special session on Wednesday to pass a resolution against the Acts.
In the letter to 40 union leaders, the Joint Secretary in the Union Agriculture Ministry, Vivek Aggarwal, on Sunday asked them to specify their concerns over its earlier proposal of amendments in the laws and choose a convenient date for the next round of talks so that the ongoing agitation could end at the earliest.
The sixth round of talks on December 9 was cancelled following a deadlock with the farmer unions refusing to budge from their demand for repealing the three laws.
The farmer leaders on Monday said they are always ready for dialogue as long as the government is offering a “concrete solution”
“There is nothing new in their letter. We have already rejected the government’s proposal to amend the new farm laws. In its letter, the government has asked us to discuss its proposal and convey a date to it for another round of talks.
“Don’t they know our demand? We just want a complete repeal of the new agriculture laws,” another farmer leader Abhimanyu Kohar said.
In the letter, the Union agriculture joint secretary said the Centre is making all efforts with “an open heart” to find an appropriate solution to resolve all concerns raised by farmers.
The officer said that in its draft proposal sent on December 9, the government had proposed to make necessary amendments on at least seven issues, including providing a “written assurance” to the farmers that the existing minimum support price (MSP) system would continue.
“On this issue (government’s proposal), we did not talk to them earlier. We are currently discussing how to respond to the government letter,” Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait said.
Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have been camping at several Delhi border points in the cold wave conditions against the new farm laws for the last 24 days. On Monday the farmers held a relay hunger strike at various protest sites in batches of 11.
“Tomorrow, there will be a Sanyukt Morcha meeting to decide how and when to respond to the government. We will evaluate the government’s letter and then decide,” Gurmeet Singh said.
The joint forum of farmers organisations – Sanyukt Kisan Morcha – appealed to Bihar farmers to join the agitation to get the benefit of minimum support price (MSP) for their produce.
Morcha leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni charged in a press statement that the “maximum impact” of the disintegration of the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee(APMC) has been seen in Bihar.
“Due to the non-implementation of MSP, the farmers and workers in Bihar have been completely devastated. A movement is currently underway for the implementation of MSP in Bihar and the entire country. The farmers and workers in Bihar should actively join it,” he said in the statement.
Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal alleged that the BJP-led central government, with its offer to resume the talks, is trying to create an impression that it is reasonable and the agitating farmers are wrong.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi should call an emergency parliament session and repeal these Acts,” said the SAD chief whose party had quit the BJP-led National Democratic alliance over the farm laws.
The Bharatiya Kisan Union (Lok Shakti), which is staging demonstrations at the Dalit Prerna Sthal in Noida, too demanded that another law be promulgated that ensures legal action against those who buy crops at rates lower than the minimum support price (MSP)
Members of the BKU (Bhanu) are also camping at the Chilla border since the first week of December.
The protestors include farmers from various districts of western Uttar Pradesh like Gautam Buddh Nagar, Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Firozabad. They want to move to Delhi to join the bigger stir called chiefly by farm unions of Punjab and Haryana.
Traffic movement has remained obstructed on the Noida-Delhi Link Road due to the protests.
“We will not end our protest until the three new farm laws are repealed and MSP is not made a legally-binding subject. Besides this, there should be a new law to ensure legal action against those who buy crops at rates lower than the MSP,” BKU (Lok Shakti) spokesperson Shailesh Kumar Giri said.
The protesting farmers on Monday drew support from CPI (M)-led LDF government in Kerala which has decided to convene a special session of the Assembly on Wednesday to discuss the three contentious central farm laws and pass a resolution against the Acts.
Finance Minister Thomas Isaac in a tweet said Kerala was in “total solidarity” with the farmers’ struggle and the session would discuss and ‘reject’ the laws.
“The cabinet has decided to recommend to the Governor to convene a special session of the assembly on December 23. The session has been called to discuss the three agricultural laws against which farmers have held country-wide agitations,” a press statement issued by the Chief Minister’s office said.
At the protest site in the Singhu border area, a dip in the minimum temperature and the participation of women in the farmers’ protest has resulted in a make-shift ‘tent city’ coming up at a petrol pump,
While tractor trolleys continue to be the first choice to sleep in for the majority of farmers camping at the Delhi-Haryana highway, the insulated tents are proving to be a welcome addition in providing protection from the winter chill and probable rain.
The tents, which more often than not are booked to the capacity, have already crossed the figure of 200 from just 50 on December 12.
Balveer Singh, 65, who has come from the Moga district of Punjab, said it has been a week now since he has been staying here in these tents and has nothing to complain about.
“I did stay in the trolley also, and then I got to know about these tents and came here. Since it is all covered, you don’t feel very cold here,” said Singh, who is happy to put up with four people in a tent basically meant for two.
Social media giant Facebook had Sunday evening shut down the page of ‘Kisan Ekta Morcha’ that shares official updates on the agitation, only to restore it three hours later following social media outrage.
The protestors on Monday said social media was crucial for their movement as it allowed them to tell the truth in their own words. The Kisan Ekta Morcha’s Instagram page was also temporarily suspended.
“Social media plays an important role in our movement. While all kinds of media are writing about us, social media helps us tell our truth in our own words,” Himmat Singh, a farmer camping at Singhu border, said.
He came to the protest site from Punjab’s Kapurthala four days ago. Before arriving here, he said his main source of information about the agitation was social media.
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 government has repeatedly asserted that the MSP and Mandi systems will stay and has accused the opposition of misleading the farmers.