Farm minister says crop-burning to be decriminalised, farmers suspend Parliament march
Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Saturday said criminal charges would not be pressed against farmers burning their crop leftovers, a source of air pollution, while farm unions postponed a planned march to Parliament and asked the government to re-start a stalled dialogue process, fuelling hopes of a rapprochement between the two sides.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella platform for farm unions, on Saturday said it was suspending, until December 4, its plans to hold a large demonstration in the national capital during the oncoming winter session of Parliament following the government’s decision to repeal the three contentious agricultural laws.
During a nationally televised address on November 19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said his government would withdraw the three laws, following year-long protests by farmers who say the legislation would have jeopardised their livelihoods.
Farm minister Tomar appealed to farmers on Saturday morning to end their agitation since the government was withdrawing the laws. Key farm leaders responded by saying they would wait till December 4 for a response on a letter written by them to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, enlisting their demands that are yet to be met.
“There is no point in farmers continuing their protests since the government has decided to repeal the farm laws. I request all farmers to return home,” Tomar told ANI, a wire agency.
The government is set to move and pass a fresh law in Parliament to repeal its three farm legislations, enacted in September 2020, but farm unions are pressing ahead with a slew of other demands, including a legislation to guarantee minimum support prices (MSPs) for agricultural produce.
“We will wait for the government’s response to our letter to the PM, in which we have listed all our rightful demands. The government must hold talks to sort out all remaining issues,” said Darshan Pal, a farm leader.
Besides a statutory guarantee for MSP, the farmers want a parcel of land for a memorial to peasants who died during the year-long protests and all criminal cases slapped against farmers during the course of their agitation to be withdrawn.
They have also sought changes to a proposed electricity bill to keep energy prices cheap for farmers and modifications to an anti-pollution law in force in the national capital region that includes provisions to penalise farmers burning paddy straw, the cause of deadly winter smog in north India.
“The government has decided to decriminalise stubble-burning. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced to constitute a committee to hold discussions on the issue of crop diversification, zero-budget farming and making the MSP system more transparent and effective.”
The agriculture minister said the committee would have representations from farmers and with this, farmers’ demand on MSP “stands fulfilled.”
The three laws the government is set to revoke were aimed at easing restrictions on trade in farm produce, allowing food traders to stockpile large stocks of food for future sales and laying down a national framework for contract farming based on written agreements.
Farm unions say the legislation would have left them at the mercy of large corporations, eroding their bargaining power.
The decision to scrap the laws came ahead of crucial state elections in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous, bellwether state, and Punjab, where farmers are an influential voting bloc.
The SKM also demanded sacking of Union minister of state for home Ajay Mishra Teni. The minister’s son had been arrested after his vehicle ploughed through farmers returning from a protest in UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri. Eight people were killed in the incident.
Farmers and the government have held 11 rounds of talks so far over their demands. The talks were called off after a deadlock during the last round held on January 22.