Farm Laws: Protesters Go on Hunger Strike; SC to Hear Plea Seeking Border Opening

A large group of farmers had blocked the key Delhi-Jaipur national highway on Sunday, when it was stopped by police on the Haryana-Rajasthan border.

New Delhi: Farmers’ protesting against the Centre’s contentious new laws have intensified their protests over the last few days, blocking the major Delhi-Jaipur highway and going on hunger strike.

At least five rounds of formal talks have taken place between the Centre and the representatives of thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, but the deadlock has continued, with the unions sticking to their main demand for a repeal of the three contentious laws and repeatedly rejecting the government’s offer to make certain changes in the legislations and give written assurances or clarifications on a few issues such as the minimum support price (MSP) and the “mandi” (wholesale market) system.

SC plea seeks opening of borders

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a plea seeking direction to authorities to immediately remove the farmers who are protesting at several border points of Delhi against three new farm laws, on December 16. The plea says that commuters are facing hardships due to the road blockades and the gatherings might lead to an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.

According to the website of the apex court, a bench of Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian will hear the plea filed by law student Rishabh Sharma, who has also sought directions to authorities to open the roads at Delhi’s borders, shift the protesters to the allotted place and provide guidelines on social distancing and use of masks at the protest site in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The petition has claimed that the Delhi Police had, on November 27, allowed the protesters to hold a peaceful demonstration at the Nirankari ground in Burari here, but despite that, they have blocked the borders of the national capital.

“Because of the ongoing protest at Delhi’s borders, the roads have been blocked by the protesters and the border points have been closed, which have affected vehicular traffic and people who are travelling to and from Delhi to get medical treatment in reputed government/private hospitals,” the plea, filed through advocate Om Prakash Parihar, said.

It referred to the October 7 order of the top court, delivered on a petition against the blockade of a road in the Shaheen Bagh area here by those protesting against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which said public spaces cannot be occupied indefinitely and demonstrations expressing dissent have to be staged at designated places alone.

Referring to the COVID-19 guidelines issued by the government, the plea said that despite advisories to not hold large gatherings amid the pandemic, lakhs of farmers have assembled at Delhi’s borders and this might lead to an increase in the number of coronavirus cases.

“It is pertinent to note that in view of the prevention of the community spread of the pandemic disease coronavirus (COVID-19), it is very necessary to remove the gatherings and this protest is further blocking the roads for all the emergency/medical services, which are very much required to be supplied within the territory of Delhi in order to stop the spread of the coronavirus.”

“The petitioner is seeking an urgent direction from this court for immediate removal/dispersal of such mass gathering of protesters at the Delhi borders and shift them to the place already allotted by the Delhi Police in view of an immediate threat of the coronavirus infection and spread,” the plea said.

It added that the protesters can continue to protest peacefully after the threat of the coronavirus is over and keeping in view that the number of COVID-19 cases is increasing, it is paramount that the protest be stopped immediately.

The plea said that due to the on-going protests, traffic movement has been disrupted at several border points of the national capital as the police have kept key routes connecting Delhi to Haryana and Uttar Pradesh closed, in view of the agitation.

Also read: The Ominous Possibilities of the Outcome of the Farmers’ Protests

A hunger strike

Meanwhile, Monday saw farmer leaders start their day-long hunger strike against the Centre’s new farm laws. They said that protests will be held at all district headquarters later in the day, even as more people are expected to join the on-going agitation at Delhi border points.

Farmer leader Baldev Singh said, “Representatives of farmer unions have started their hunger strike at Singhu Border.”

On Sunday, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said that he would also observe a day-long fast on Monday and appealed to the central government to shun ego and scrap the legislations.

A large group of farmers had blocked the key Delhi-Jaipur national highway on Sunday, when it was stopped by police on the Haryana-Rajasthan border.

As part of the nationwide protest, dharnas will be staged at all district headquarters across the country on Monday.

In view of nationwide protest, the Delhi Police has enhanced security at city border points.

According to the Times of India, farmers protesting at Ghazipur border asked students from Jamia Millia Islamia to not join the protest. “We will fight our own battles,” they reportedly said.

(With PTI inputs)