Farmers’ protest: Ministers in huddle, all eyes on key meet today
A day before the resumption of crucial talks, top Union ministers went into a huddle on Wednesday, brainstorming ways to end a protest by farmers who have massed at Delhi’s borders to demand the repeal of three contentious laws aimed at opening up farm trade, as the city’s authorities scrambled to smoothen traffic disrupted by the massive show of strength by cultivators from northern India.
Union home minister Amit Shah, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar and railways, food and consumer affairs minister Piyush Goyal met at Shah’s residence on the day a blockade triggered by the farmers’ protest at two key border points connecting Delhi to Haryana entered its sixth day, and the gathering of protesters at the Noida border led to the closure of an arterial road link to Uttar Pradesh.
“(In the previous round of talks) the farmers were confrontational and party leaders are relying on Shah to bring them around,” a senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) functionary aware of the discussion among the central ministers said, referring to a dialogue between farm leaders and the government on Tuesday. That meeting could not reach a consensus but the stakeholders agreed to carry forward the dialogue.
Shah was expected to meet Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh on Thursday morning, ahead of the Centre’s talks with farm leaders, according to PTI . Thousands of farmers from Punjab have joined the protests.
As focus shifted to Thursday’s meeting, farm leaders appeared to have hardened their stand, demanding the Centre call a special session of Parliament to repeal the newly enacted farms laws, which they say will adversely impact the minimum support price system (MSP) that offers cultivators assured prices from the government, and eventually help corporate entities.
At Singhu border, which opens into Sonepat and is one of the two points blocked on the Haryana border, farmers’ leader Darshan Pal accused the Centre of dividing agricultural groups. “The Centre should call a special session of Parliament to repeal the three farm laws,” he said, adding that protesters will continue their agitation till the laws were repealed. Apart from Singhu, the farmers have also been camping at the border point in Tikri -- it opens into Bahadurgarh — since November 27.
The blockade has hit supply of fruits and vegetables to Delhi from Haryana, Punjab and states further north. Opening another front, transport unions threatened on Wednesday to halt the movement of essential goods across north Indian states from next week, and then subsequently to the entire country if the government did not meet the farmers’ demands.
A large section of farmers has demanded the repeal of the three laws enacted by Parliament in September, which, together, allow agribusinesses to trade farm produce without restrictions, permit private traders to stockpile large quantities of essential commodities for future sales and lay down new rules for contract farming. Farmers say the reforms will make them vulnerable to exploitation by big corporations and weaken the government’s MSP system.
At Tuesday’s talks, protesters rejected a proposal from the Centre for a five-member committee of officials, economists and farmers’ representatives to hold future negotiations after union leaders from 35 farm organisations based in Punjab and Haryana met Tomar, Goyal and minister of state for commerce Som Prakash for over three hours.
Farmers say they also want a legal guarantee for MSP, stressing that they have marched to Delhi for a “decisive battle”.
“The party high command has already issued statements to assure farmers about the continuation of MSP,” said the BJP functionary quoted above.
He was referring to the Centre’s outreach attempts led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has said the reforms will not hurt the MSP system, will add “new dimensions” to agriculture and break decades-old “shackles” on farm trade.
That the government is pulling out all the stops to reach a consensus is evident from separate negotiations it held with farmers’ group Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU)’s Tikait faction, which holds sway over western Uttar Pradesh.
As the impasse continued, protests at Mayur Vihar, bordering UP, led to the closure of a crucial route connecting the national capital with the state for the second consecutive day on Wednesday. “The Chilla border on Noida link road is closed for traffic... People are advised to avoid Noida link road... and use NH 24 and DND instead,” the traffic police tweeted.
One of the carriageways on the route was opened in the afternoon, allowing commuters coming from Delhi to enter Noida, as protesters continued to sit on the other side of the road amid heavy police deployment.
The Kalandi Kunj border connecting Noida with south Delhi was briefly closed around 4:30pm after about 100 farmers on tractors arrived there and tried to enter Delhi. Police placed barricades and deployed extra personnel at the site, and convinced them to return to Noida.
Meanwhile, several traders from three prominent agriculture produce market committees (APMCs) in Delhi – Azadpur, Ghazipur and Okhla – said a large number of them had stopped sending fruits and vegetables to other states temporarily and were focusing only on local supplies to keep prices stable in Delhi. Arrivals of fruits and vegetables in Azadpur have dropped significantly from around 11,500 trucks per day on an average for this time of the year to around 6,000 trucks a day, said Adil Khan, Azadpur APMC chairperson.
Anil Malhotra, a wholesale trader based in Azadpur, said: “...traders are running out of stock. And the arrivals are very low. So a demand and supply gap will surface soon — probably in another three to four days — if the borders remain blocked. With that, prices will go up.”
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