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Farmers reject govt’s formula, stir to go on

ByKaram Prakash, Shambhu
Feb 20, 2024 05:50 AM IST

Punjab farmer leaders reject government offer on crop prices, plan to march to Delhi on Wednesday. Haryana and Delhi borders sealed in anticipation.

Farmer leaders from Punjab rejected on Monday the latest offer from the central government on guaranteeing floor prices for select crops, and announced that they will on Wednesday resume their march to the national Capital – a plan that has prompted police in Haryana and Delhi to seal off key borders for days now.

Sarwan Singh Pandher and Jagjit Singh Dallewal address the media at the Punjab-Haryana Shambhu border, in Patiala district, on Monday. (PTI)

The announcement came after the two outfits leading the agitation, Punjab Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KSMC) and Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Sidhupur), held a fourth round of talks with Union ministers in Chandigarh till early hours of Monday.

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At the meeting, the government offered a new mechanism – five-year contracts with cooperative societies to procure pulses, maize and cotton at minimum support prices (MSP).

After returning to the Shambhu border between Punjab and Haryana, where a caravan of thousands of farmers initially headed to Delhi on February 13 has halted, the leaders of the two unions announced that the offer was rejected.

“After the discussion of both forums, it has been decided that if you analyse, there is nothing in the government’s proposal... This is not on the favour of farmers. We reject it,” said Jagjit Singh Dallewal, who heads the BKU (Ekta Sidhupur).

“The Centre says something else in the discussions and while speaking at the press conference outside, they say different things. We have not given any proposal. We will move towards Delhi on February 21 at 11am,” added Sarwan Singh Pandher, the general secretary of KSMC.

Pandher said that they still stand on their main demand of a legal guarantee of MSP on all 23 crops. He added that the government’s proposal to give MSP for only five years on selected crops was a step closer to contract farming – which was unacceptable.

The agitation led by the two outfits is over a raft of demands such as a law to guarantee that farmers get MSP for 23 crops, waiver of their loans, reinstating of a 2013 land acquisition law, and jobs for the families of those who died during a previous farm agitation in 2020-21.

Other unions in Punjab and Haryana have in recent days backed the protest, worsening the challenge for the government, which has assigned Union minister for commerce Piyush Goyal, Union agriculture minister Arjun Munda, and minister of state for home Nityanand Rai to hold parleys.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, under which farmer unions fought against farm laws in 2020-2021, too, rejected the Centre’s proposal on crop diversification and procurement for five years on Monday. “It (proposal) seeks to ‘divert and dilute’ the farmers’ demand for MSP and they will accept nothing less than the ‘C-2 plus 50%’ formula for MSP as recommended in the Swaminathan Commission report,” said an SKM spokesperson in a release.

Around 1am on Monday, after their fourth round of meeting, Goyal gave details of the government’s new offer: “Cooperative societies like NCCF (National Cooperative Consumers Federation) and NAFED (National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India) will enter into a contract with those farmers who grow ‘tur dal’, ‘urad dal’, ‘masoor dal’ or maize for buying their crop at MSP for next five years.”

The minister added that there would be “no limit on the quantity (purchased) and a portal will be developed for this” and said that he proposed the Cotton Corporation of India will buy cotton from farmers at MSP for five years after entering into a legal agreement with them.

On Monday evening, while rejecting the offer, Dallewal said the groups were sceptical of the promises. “The reason for not accepting government’s proposal (on MSP guarantee) is that they said during the meeting that they will buy all the crops of the country, but at the press conference outside, they said a totally different thing. This means this is some kind of injustice with the farmers. They said that 1.5 lakh crore will be spent to ensure MSP on pulses. But our expert said that this is completely wrong,” he said, reiterating a “request to hold a peaceful protest (march to Delhi).”

The cultivators were also angry at the Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Singh Mann – who was part of the meetings – and the conditions at the border where they have camped in a kilometres-long queue of tractors, trucks and private vehicles.

“The way farmers were treated at the (Shambhu) border is condemnable. The main reason for inviting Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann to the meetings was to raise the issue of barricading along the borders, and that people of his state (Punjab) are facing tear gas shelling from neighbouring state. He guaranteed to take notice of the situation, but he hasn’t. He should have put this issue in front of ministers… we request the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognisance against those who have done this act,” Dallewal said.

In Haryana, across the Shambhu border, another farm group with a large following said that it will march to Delhi if the government does not expand the MSP system to also include oilseeds.

“There is time until February 21. The government should think and understand that these two things (Oilseeds and Bajra) are very important (for procurement). Just like they mentioned pulses, maize and cotton, they should include these two crops too. If these two are not included, we will have to think about it again because these are our important things which do not get sold. Today mustard is available in the market at 4,200, it is being sold at 2,000 less than MSP,” said Gurnam Singh Charuni, the leader of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Charuni).

Charuni added that the group has decided that if the government “doesn’t agree by 21st February, Haryana too will join the agitation”.

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