Farmers gather at Singhu border during their sit-in protest against the Centre's farm reform laws, in New Delhi, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.(PTI)
Farmers gather at Singhu border during their sit-in protest against the Centre's farm reform laws, in New Delhi, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.(PTI)

Farmers’ best interests in mind, open for talks: Rajnath Singh amid protest

Reports came from Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala of protests being organised by farmer bodies.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON DEC 14, 2020 06:53 PM IST

As farmers leaders in various parts of the country participated in the day-long fast on Monday to protest against the new agriculture sector reforms, further upping their agitation, defence minister Rajnath Singh hailed agriculture as “mother sector” and also underlined that the government is always open to discussion and dialogue.

“There is no question of taking retrograde steps against our agricultural sector ever. The recent reforms have been undertaken with the best interests of India’s farmers in mind,” he said, hours before agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar reiterated the government’s request to farmers to have dialogue with the government.

“The hunger strike call given by farmer leaders was successful,” said Baldev Singh, a farmer leader at Singhu border of Delhi and Haryana, where tens of thousands of farmers have gathered since November 27.

Elsewhere, a large group of farmers on Monday tried to block the key Delhi-Jaipur national highway at Shahjahanpur on the Haryana-Rajasthan border, but were prevented from doing so by the police. At Gazipur, on Delhi-Noida border, the traffic was blocked for some time by Bharatiya Kisan Union (Takait) faction for some time. Rakesh Takait said that the traffic was blocked to tell the administration that they can block the traffic but were not doing it so that people are not inconvenienced.

Farmers raised slogans outside the offices of district commissioners and took out protest marches in Punjab and Haryana on Monday, following a nationwide call given by their unions against the new central laws. The Haryana police closed the Ambala-Patiala highway after protesters gathered at the Shambhu border point adjoining Punjab. Many of these farmers were on their way to Singhu border, which has become the epicenter of farmer protests against the three farm laws.

The ruling Congress also held protests in Punjab, with the state unit chief Sunil Jakhar participating in one near the Shambhu border. Shiromani Akali Dal workers protested in Amritsar. In Punjab, farmers protested in several districts including Ludhiana, Patiala, Sangrur, Barnala, Bathinda, Moga, Faridkot, Ferozepur and Tarn Taran.

“Farmers held protests outside the offices of deputy commissioners at several places in Punjab,” Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan said. This farmer union had not participated in the day-long hunger strike saying they were not consulted.

In Haryana, the farmers came out in large numbers and took out protest marches before holding day-long demonstrations outside the offices of deputy commissioners (DCs) as the agitation against Centre’s three farm laws evoked massive response on Monday. Not only the opposition parties but also different employees associations such as Haryana Sarv Karamchari Sangh and Asha workers association extended support to the peasants protests. The protests remained peaceful. The farmers held protests outside the offices of DCs in Rohtak, Hisar, Bhiwani, Sonepat, Jhajjar, Jind, Fatehabad and other districts and took out protest march after a nationwide call given by their unions.

“Everybody should come forward to join this fight for the future of the farming community. We are happy with the support from different sections and sectors,” said Ratan Mann, Haryana BKU (Tikait) state president.

In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party workers clashed with police at various places as they were prevented from marching towards collectors’ offices. Clashes were reported from Lucknow, Hardoi, Agra, Gorakhpur, Etawah and some other districts. In Agra, the police used mild force to disperse protesting Samajwadi Party workers.

“Samajwadi Party supports farmers’ demands. Its sympathy lies with farmers. The ‘kisan yatra’ was started by the SP on December 7. The party workers are holding dharna at all the district headquarters in the state today. I have been arrested in Sandila and many party leaders are under house arrest,” said SP law-maker Rajpal Kashyap.

Reports also came from Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Bihar, Odisha, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Kerala of protests being organised by farmer bodies at district headquarters.

In support of farmers, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal and his cabinet colleagues and his Punjab counterpart observed a day-long fast and appealed to the Central government to listen to farmers. Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot also asked the Centre to repeal the farm laws as being demanded by 32 farmer organisations protesting at the Delhi-Haryana border.

As farmers intensified their protests against the newly enacted farm laws, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday asserted that agriculture was a “mother sector” and there was no question of taking any “retrograde steps” against it ever. He also said that government is always open to discussion and dialogue.

“There is no question of taking retrograde steps against our agricultural sector ever. The recent reforms have been undertaken with the best interests of India’s farmers in mind,” he said, hours before agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar reiterated the government’s request to farmers to have dialogue with the government.

In view of the nationwide protest, the Delhi Police had enhanced security at city border points. Containers, multi-layered cemented barriers, barbed wires and additional police force was deployed at various borders, where the farmers have been protesting. Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, are currently staying put at Delhi’s borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in protest against the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

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