Farmers’ protest against farm laws: Fissures in unions as govt hardens stance

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December 23, 2020 7:45 AM

Farmer groups defer decision on whether to respond to Centre's latest dialogue offer, 'only Punjab farmers agitating': Govt

Tomar also said he expected a positive response from the agitating farmers on the offer to hold talks, “at the earliest”.Tomar also said he expected a positive response from the agitating farmers on the offer to hold talks, “at the earliest”.

Agitating farmer organisations on Tuesday appeared indecisive, if not divided, in taking a call on whether to respond positively to the Centre’s offer for resumption of dialogue to end the prolonged impasse over new farm laws. As the farmer groups will discuss the matter among themselves again on Wednesday, they have also called for intensifying the agitation, and chalked out a strategy to counter the government’s outreach programme, which is aimed at propagating the reforms and the benefits to the farmer community.

In a sign that the government is also equally determined not to budge from its stated position that the laws won’t be repealed, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Tuesday gave a series of interviews to foreign media, where he highlighted why the ongoing agitation is confined to farmers from Punjab, the key beneficiaries of the government’s grain procurement. He also articulated the merits of the laws and elaborated on different pro-farmer initiatives of the NDA government, but remained non-committal on the farmer groups’ key demand to make the minimum support price (MSP) statutory

Tomar also said he expected a positive response from the agitating farmers on the offer to hold talks, “at the earliest”. “I hope that they will complete their internal consultations soon and come for the dialogue. We are hopeful of resolving it (farmers’ protest) at the earliest,” Tomar after meeting some farmer leaders at his office here.

He further said: “Several office bearers of farmers’ unions came and met me. They expressed concerns over the government’s move to make some changes in the laws. They said the laws are beneficial for the farmers and there should not be any changes in these Acts.”

On the other hand, farmer leaders could not take a decision on whether to accept the government’s offer of talks as some leaders could not reach the meeting venue as they were leading agitating farmers at different entry points of the national capital region (NCR), sources said. As many as 32 organisations of Punjab, who are leading the movement, discussed the letter sent by agriculture ministry on December 20 but could not arrive at a consensus, the sources said.

“There is a feeling that any decision has to be taken keeping in view the government’s strategy of putting the blame on farmers for the deadlock,” said a farmer leader associated with one of the organisations.

To keep the pressure on the government, the unions called for farmers to skip the lunch on Wedesday, as a mark of protest on the occasion of National Farmers’ Day. “We call upon Indians living abroad to stage protest in front of Indian embassies. We will also publish 25 lakh pamphlets in Hindi, English and Punjabi, and distribute in villages to mobilise support for our demand,” said Prem Singh Bhangu, president of All India Kisan Federation.

More than one lakh farmers have been protesting outside Delhi borders since November 26 demanding repeal of the three farm laws, enacted recently to unshackle Indian agriculture from various restrictions.

The Centre last week ruled out the possibility of putting on hold the new farm laws until a proposed committee of independent experts is constituted to facilitate talks with protesting farmers.

Expressing the Centre’s inability to heed the Supreme Court’s (SC) suggestion to “assure that no executive action under the new laws” will be initiated, attorney general KK Venugopal said no farmer will then come for registration. Nevertheless, he said he would seek the Centre’s instructions on the matter. But Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court that any such suggestion will be “tough” to implement.

A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice SA Bobde, endorsed farmers’ right to peaceful protest but made it clear that rights of other citizens should not be interfered with in this process.

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