Farm bills anger spills onto highways, railways
Farmers across several states protested over key farm reform laws passed by Parliament this week, leading to disruption of life in Punjab, Haryana and parts of western Uttar Pradesh, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the opposition parties of spreading “lies” and misleading the farmers for their own political benefit in a video message, the third time he has had to defend the legislations.
In the truncated session, Parliament approved the Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, leading to a protest by farmer bodies and opposition political parties. The primary points of contention are the absence of any mention of a minimum support price (the government-decided floor) and the freedom given to private players and others to operate in areas beyond the physical boundaries of Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs).
Close to 250 farmer bodies came together under the banner of All India Kisan Sangharsh Committee on Friday for a national strike between 10am and 4pm, terming the laws as “anti-farmers” and asked the government either to withdraw these legislations or at least provide minimum support price (MSP) protection in them. The government has maintained that MSPs will stay and there was no reason for farmers to worry. It has already announced MSPs for some winter-sown crops to reassure farmers who continue to insist that the support price protection be written into the law.
Farmers blocked road traffic at several places in Punjab, Haryana and parts of Uttar Pradesh, only allowing movement of emergency services such as ambulances. Road blockades in several places forced people to walk long distances to reach their destinations. The protest called by 185 farmer bodies was more or less peaceful with no major untoward incident reported from anywhere.
According to Punjab government officials, a complete bandh was observed in all 22 districts, except the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stronghold of Pathankot, with business establishments and public transport not functioning. Railways had already suspended about two dozen trains originating from or passing through the state in view of the three-day rail blockade observed by farmer groups from September 24 to 26. Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh said he will not allow implementation of the laws in Punjab and directed the police not to book farmers for violation of Section 144 of CrPC imposed across the state for Covid management.
In Haryana, a near complete bandh was observed in farmer dominated districts of western and central parts of the state with not much impact seen in the northern parts. Traffic was blocked on the Rohtak-Chandigarh, Rohtak-Delhi, Jind-Chandigarh and Ambala-Hisar highways. Additional police force was deployed at Ambala and Panipat railway stations, officials said.
In western UP, farmer organisations blocked major highways including the Yamuna Expressway in the national capital region and Agra-Lucknow expressway. Road blocks were also reported from Ayodhya and some parts of eastern UP. Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (KMS) and Rashtriya Kisan Sabha members demonstrated at various places.
Political parties such as the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Trinamool Congress and the Left parties supported the strike and their workers participated in the bandh.
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala told reporters in Jaipur that the Modi government has launched a brutal attack on the livelihood of 620 million people linked with farming at the time the country has been attacked by the Corona virus and China . Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav said the laws would enslave farmers to corporates and claimed that farm incomes have fallen in recent years instead of increasing as promised by the Prime Minister.
PM Modi asked the BJP workers to reach out to farmers on the ground and inform them about details and benefits of the new agriculture reforms and how these will empower them.
“They (Opposition) are spreading rumours. Saving farmers from such rumours and explaining the importance of the agriculture reforms is the responsibility and duty of all BJP workers because we have to make the future of farmers bright,” Modi said at a function organised to celebrate the birth anniversary of party’s ideologue Deendayal Upadhyay.
The PM said small and marginal farmers, who constitute 85% of the peasant community, will benefit the most from these reforms as they would get better price for their produce.
BJP leaders also held press conferences at various states capitals saying that farmers were being misled by the Opposition. “The Rabi crop has not been harvested yet and they are saying farmers will not get the minimum support price,” said BJP national spokesperson Sambit Patra in Kolkata. “This kind of smear campaign will not work. The BJP government is committed to protecting the interest of farmers.”
Outside the food bowl of northern India, protests were also reported from West Bengal and Bihar. The ruling Trinamool Congress and the Left partied led the protests in West Bengal. Traffic was blocked in Hooghly, North 24 Parganas, Nadia, South 24 Parganas, Burdwan, East Midnapore and other districts where farming is the main source of income for the rural population. In Bihar, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav led a protest in Patna. Roads were blocked at Ara, Purnia, Samastipur, Bhagalpur, Begusarai and Hajipur districts, officials said.
However, there was not much impact of the bandh in states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, from where only sporadic protests were reported. Farmer bodies burnt copies of the laws at several locations and in Karnataka, entry of traffic into Bengaluru was blocked.
(With inputs from agencies)