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Agriculture

Farmers' Protest: Ball in Modi Govt's Court Again as SKM Says Agitation Will Continue

Farmers' unions have made it clear that they will not be satisfied until all their demands – and not just the farm laws repeal – are satisfied.

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Chandigarh: The ball is now in the Narendra Modi government’s court, as the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), a body of over 40 farmers’ unions leading the protests, has made it clear after its meeting on Saturday that it will not call off the movement until all remaining demands are met.

The Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre had hoped that the protests would end after Modi suddenly appeared on national TV on November 19 and announced the repeal of the farm laws. SKM leaders, however, have clarified that the repeal of the farm laws was their key – but not only – demand ever since the protests began last year.

“All through the farm protests, we had demanded the legal guarantee for the minimum support price (MSP), withdrawal of fake cases registered against farmers and compensation to families of farmers who died during the protest,” read SKM statement

It added that apart from this, farmers had constantly sought withdrawal of the draft Electricity Amendments Bill, removal of penal provisions against farmers for stubble burning in the Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Act 2021 and arrest and sacking of Union minister Ajay Kumar Mishra for the Lakhimpur Kheri violence.

“We also wanted land to construct a memorial in memory of those lost their lives during the farm struggle,” the SKM further said.

Also read: Punjab: Will BJP’s Plan to Induct Sikh Leaders Negate the Impact of Farmers’ Protest?

After parliament officially repealed the farm laws on November 29, there were reports of some farmers’ unions asking for an end to the protests. But with its latest statement, SKM had laid such speculation to rest. It announced that all farmers’ unions are on the same page.

The SKM also announced the name of five members – Balbir Singh Rajewal, Ashok Dhawle, Shiv Kumar Kakka, Gurnam Singh Chaduni and Yudhvir Singh – who will hold further negotiations with the Modi government.

The Union government had asked names for a committee on the MSP alone, but Rakesh Tikait clarified during his media address on Saturday that this five-member panel will be SKM’s face not just on the MSP but all other pending issues as well.

Union government yet to call panel for talks

Two days after the SKM announced the panel, there has been no statement from the Union government fixing a date for talks.

In January this year, the Union government had several round of talks with farmers. These talks ended in a deadlock and the protests continued.

After the SKM meeting on Saturday, Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar asked the protesters to end their stir and return to their homes.

Talking to reporters in Gwalior, Tomar said Modi has already withdrawn the three farm laws, which was the protestors’ main demand. The SKM, on the other hand, released a statement a day later, on Sunday, and reminded Tomar that several issues are still pending and they have been clearly listed in the SKM’s letter to Modi on November 21.

“The government must discuss these pending issues with the five-member committee that has been constituted for this purpose in the SKM meeting. We expressed the hope that before our December 7, the Union Government will hold talks and discuss all the remaining issues,” it added.

Farmers stage a protest demanding a legal guarantee for the procurement of crops at MSP, at Singhu border in New Delhi, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. Photo: PTI/Atul Yadav

Meanwhile, the first round of talks between the Haryana SKM and the Haryana government regarding the withdrawal of police cases and compensation to families of those who died was held on December 3, but was inconclusive.

While the Congress government in Punjab has already given concrete assurances in this direction, the SKM is waiting for the decision of the governments to withdraw the cases filed in Uttar Pradesh and Delhi as well as in other states. In Delhi, even SKM leaders have been booked in January 26 violence cases.

According to the SKM, the Union government should come forward and issue directions to the states to withdraw these cases at the earliest.

Gurnam Singh Chaduni, whose union BKU (Chaduni) is active in Haryana, told The Wire that of all states, Haryana has the maximum number of police cases registered against farmers. As many as 48,000 farmers were booked by the Haryana police in the last one year of the protest. Many of them are facing serious charges like sedition and attempt to murder, he added.

“Our resolve is final that the farm movement will continue till the time there is tangible action both by Centre and state governments to withdraw cases filed against farmers during the last one year,” he said

Joginder Ugrahan, the BKU Ekta Ugrahana president, has explained why it is important to ensure that cases against farmers are withdrawn before ending the protest.

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He said there were occasions in the past where governments did not take back cases after similar farm movements. “Majority of cases registered against farmers are false and must be withdrawn at the earliest,” he added

Balbir Singh Rajewal said that the government of India has chosen to work informally and in a piecemeal fashion by responding to only some of the issues being raised by the protesting farmers.

“Farm unions of India have a bitter experience from the past of securing only oral assurances and ending their agitation, and finding that governments renege on the meagre oral assurances too. We will not end this agitation without formal responses on each of the issues being raised by us. We want to see all the cases foisted against farmers as well as their supporters as part of this movement withdrawn and such an assurance coming formally,” said the SKM leader.

The five-member committee will also decide on state-level teams that might have to work along with some state governments on the issues above, Rajewal said.

Compensation farmers among top priorities

Compensation for the kin of farmers who died during the movement is among key demands. Union say more than 700 farmers lost their lives.

So far, only the Punjab government has announced Rs 5 lakh compensation and government jobs to families of those who passed away, but even then all beneficiaries are not covered.

In Haryana, where number of farmers deaths are highest after Punjab, there has been no compensation announced so far.

The SKM in its statement on Sunday said that Union government must come forward and take the onus of compensation.

The Centre came under heavy criticism when the Union agriculture minister said in parliament that the government had no record of those died during the farm protest. A recent study revealed that a majority of farmers who died during the protest were small and marginal farmers, with landholding less than three acres.

Meanwhile, all the permanent morchas started during the movement led by the SKM are continuing. The morcha has completed 357 days in Wardha (Maharashtra), 321 days in Sawai Madhopur (Rajasthan), 81 days in Seoni (Madhya Pradesh) and 337 days in Rewa (MP).

The next meeting of the SKM will be held on December 7, in which the future course of the movement will be decided.