Punjab: Farmers Call off Protests as AAP Govt Agrees to Several Demands

The farmers had stormed the Mohali-Chandigarh border on Tuesday, May 17 to press their various demands, including a bonus on wheat and advancing the paddy sowing schedule from June 10.

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Chandigarh: As many as 23 farm unions of Punjab, all members of the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), had stormed the Mohali-Chandigarh border on Tuesday, May 17 to press their various demands, including a bonus on wheat and advancing the paddy sowing schedule from June 10.

Initially, the Bhagwant Mann-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government was reluctant to engage in a dialogue with the farmers. In fact, the chief minister had cancelled a meeting with them, which was scheduled to take place on Tuesday, as he left for Delhi in a haste.

Even after coming back to Chandigarh late at night, he called the farm unions’ protest “unwarranted and undesirable”.

The protesting farmers were carrying ration, beds, fans, coolers, utensils, cooking gas cylinders and other items with them. The protest was led by familiar names from last year’s farmers’ movement: Darshan Pal of Krantikari Kisan Union, Jagjit Singh Dallewal of BKU (Sidhupur), BKU-Krantikari chief Surjeet Singh Phul and others, who are also among the key members of SKM.

However, Mann on Wednesday, May 18 agreed to meet the representatives of farmer bodies after they threatened long haul protests at the border, bringing back last year’s memories of the farmers’ movement outside Delhi borders.

As many as 36 farmer leaders held a marathon meeting with the chief minister on Wednesday afternoon at Punjab Bhawan in Chandigarh’s sector 3.

After two and a half hours of talks, both sides reached a compromise as the state government accepted several of their demands.

Later, state rural development and panchayat minister, Kuldeep Dhaliwal, visited the protest site to pacify the protesting farmers. While they were leaving the site, their message was loud and clear – neither the state nor the Centre can take them for granted.

After the meeting, BKU’s Dallewal told The Wire that the Mann government showed a positive attitude in the meeting. “We are hopeful that he will continue to support farmers, otherwise we will be forced to come back,” he said.

Mann, on the other hand, urged the union leaders to give him at least a year to bring farmer-friendly reforms in the agriculture sector.

He said, “Please bear with me and I assure you that I will make your organisation free from agitations”.

Also read: Can Punjab AAP Govt Rise up to Emerging Challenges With No Interference From Delhi Bosses?

The major issues

The AAP government had decided to allow paddy sowing in a staggered manner from June 18 to lessen the electricity burden and conserve underground water. This would have been done by dividing the entire state into four zones: zone-I with date of transplantation (June 18), zone-II (June 22), zone-III (June 24) and zone-IV (June 26).

The farmers, however, opposed the government’s decision to delay the sowing period, saying this would extend the harvesting period and leave their crops with more moisture, hence causing trouble at the time of procurement.

After the meeting, Mann announced a revised schedule for staggered sowing of paddy on June 14 and June 17, thus restricting the total number of zones to just two instead of four. The government also allowed farmers near the borders to sow paddy from June 10.

Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann. Photo: Facebook/Bhagwant Mann

The government further said that it will ensure uninterrupted power supply to agriculture feeders so that the sowing season is not affected.

The farmers also wanted a notification issued for the minimum support price (MSP) for maize, moong and basmati.

After the Punjab government’s push for crop diversification, the area under moong has increased by nearly 80%; however, no notification on procurement was issued by the government.

Mann, therefore, told the farmer leaders that the state government has issued a notification to procure the entire moong (green gram) crop at an MSP of Rs 7,275 per quintal.

He also told the farmers that the state government is in the process of finalising modalities to procure maize too on MSP.

He also said that he would call Union home minister Amit Shah on Thursday and ask the Union government to immediately fix MSP on Basmati.

The farmers have also demanded a Rs 500 per quintal bonus on wheat procurement as severe heatwave have scorched wheat fields in India, leading to a lower yield.

Punjab agriculture director Gurvinder Singh told The Wire that wheat production per acre in the state has gone down from 48 quintals in 2021 to 42 quintals this year, thereby causing a minimum loss of Rs. 12,000 to 15,000 per acre to farmers.

The farmers could not even recover input cost due to a massive downfall of productivity, farm union leaders told Mann. However, no compensation has been provided by the state government, they said. Responding to this issue, the chief minister said he would take up this matter with the Centre and try to push for relief packages for farmers.