Amid deadlock, farmers' stir talks with Centre stretch past midnight | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Amid deadlock, farmers' stir talks with Centre stretch past midnight

By, Chandigarh
Feb 16, 2024 07:18 AM IST

Previous discussions between the government and protesters – on February 8 and 12 – ended in an impasse, with farmers refusing to dial down on their demands.

A fresh round negotiations between a panel of senior Union ministers and protesting farmers stretched past midnight on Thursday, as interlocutors tried to hammer out compromises to key sticking points, including the agitators’ demands for a law on minimum support prices (MSP) for crops, a day before a planned nationwide strike.

Farmers block railway tracks in Amritsar, Punjab. (HT PHOTO)
Farmers block railway tracks in Amritsar, Punjab. (HT PHOTO)

Union ministers Piyush Goyal, Nityanand Rai and Arjun Munda, reached Chandigarh earlier in the day and met a clutch of senior farm leaders, including Punjab Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee general secretary Sarvan Singh Pandher and Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Sidhupur) chief Jagjit Singh Dallewal. Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann and state agriculture minister Harpal Singh Cheema were also part of the talks.

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Talks continued till the time of going to print, and there was announcement on the discussions.

Previous discussions between the government and protesters – on February 8 and 12 – ended in an impasse, with farmers refusing to dial down on their demands. The Centre has, however, sought to explain that it cannot frame and implement a law on MSP “in a hurry”.

The farmers’ demands also include debt waivers, jobs for relatives of people killed during the 13-month-long farmers protest in Delhi between November 2020 and December 2021, compensation for the farmers injured in Lakhimpur Kheri in October 2021, and the withdrawal of cases registered against protesting cultivators.

Farmers had on Thursday paused efforts to rupture the police barricades at the Punjab-Haryana border and march to Delhi, as part of a temporary halt ahead of the negotiations.

Meanwhile, 37 farmers’ groups under the umbrella group Samyukt Kisan Morcha said the nationwide strike on Friday would bring “villages to a halt”, even as other organisers said they would also block national highways, railway lines and major thoroughfares.

The strike, being organised in conjunction with central trade unions, will last from 6am to 4pm, and will also be accompanied by tractor rallies.

Darshan Pal, a senior member of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha’s national coordination committee, said, “Villages will remain closed for all agricultural activities as well MGNREGA and rural work. No farmer, agricultural worker or rural worker will work”.

The supply of vegetables and other crops will also remain suspended, said Pal, adding that the movement will also spill onto towns neighbouring villages.

The strike is largely expected to affect rural areas in Punjab, Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and parts of Rajasthan – regions where the farm unions have the strongest imprint.

Highway traffic is likely to be significantly hobbled as well.

“In Haryana, the farmer unions have decided to make all tolls free for three hours from noon,” said Bharatiya Kisan Union leader and SKM member, Inderjit Singh. “We will block highways for three hours and the SKM will hold a meeting on February 18 to take a call on the ongoing agitation,” he added.

Train services in north India took a hit on Thursday as hundreds of farmers squatted on train tracks in Punjab, to protest the police’s violence against people protesting at the agrarian state’s borders with Haryana.

A railway official said that eight trains were cancelled and 22 diverted as supporters of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) occupied lines for four hours.

“However, neither the Vande Bharat nor Shatabdi trains were affected due to the protest,” added the official.

In Hoshiarpur, farmers staged protests at two toll plazas on the Jalandhar-Pathankot National Highway.

Farmers led by state president of Doaba Kisan Committee (DKC) Jangveer Singh Chauhan gathered at the toll plazas at Cholang and Harse Mansar and staged dharnas there.

Similar agitations played out in Punjab’s Moga and Mansa districts.

“We are holding an agitation against the police action on farmers who were trying to go to Delhi,” said BKU leader Harmit Singh Kadian.

Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Thursday criticised the farmers’ protest methods.

“We have an objection to their method,” Khattar said on the farmers’ call for going to Delhi. “We do not have any objection to them going to Delhi. There are trains, buses and their own vehicles. But a tractor is not a mode of transport. It is an agricultural equipment,” he said.

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    Gurpreet Singh Nibber is an Assistant Editor with the Punjab bureau. He covers politics, agriculture, power sector, environment, Sikh religious affairs and the Punjabi diaspora.

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