Parliament march cancelled as Tomar calls for end of stir
There were signs of a thaw between the government and protesting farmers on Saturday as farm unions suspended their November 29 tractor march to Parliament, hours after agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar appealed to farmers call off their stir.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 40 farm unions, said it was suspending, till December 4, its plans to hold a demonstration in the national capital to coincide with the winter session of Parliament.
The announcement came soon after Tomar requested the farmers to return home “since the government has decided to repeal the farm laws”. The Centre has agreed to decriminalize stubble burning, a pending demand of the protesting farmers, the Union minister said.
“The farmers’ demand was to decriminalise stubble burning. The government of India has agreed to this demand,” he said. The burning of farm residue has been a key contributor to the severe air pollution in the national capital region, where several curbs, including a ban on stubble burning, have been imposed.
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 law to guarantee minimum support prices (MSPs) for agricultural produce.
In a statement on Saturday, Tomar said that the government has also decided to constitute a panel to discuss the farmers’ demands of crop diversification and “making the MSP system more transparent”.
“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,” he said.
The committee will have representations from farmers, Tomar said, adding that with this their demands on the MSP “stands fulfilled”. MSPs are state-assured floor rates meant to help avoid distress sale.
On the farmers’ demand of withdrawal of all criminal cases filed against them during the year-long agitation, Tomar said it was in the domain of state governments. “Looking at the severity of the cases, the state governments have to take a call and the issue of compensation is also to be decided by them,” he said, adding that every state will decide as per their state laws.
Stating that there is no justification for the continuation of the agitation after the government announced repeal of the three farm laws, Tomar said: “Therefore, I appeal to all farmers organisations to end the protest ethically and show their big heart. They should return to their respective homes.”
The Farm Laws Repeal Bill, 2021, has been listed for introduction and passage in Lok Sabha on the first day of the Winter Session on Monday. Tomar will introduce the bill in the house, which was approved by the Union Cabinet on Wednesday.
In a televised address on November 19, Prime Minister Modi, “while apologising to the people of the country”, said that the government “could not explain to some of our farmer brothers a truth that was as clear as a flame” about the farm laws.
Reacting to the minister’s statement on Saturday, farm leaders said they would wait till December 4 for a response to a letter they have written to Modi, enlisting their demands.
“We are suspending the Parliament march on Monday. We had written to the Prime Minister for withdrawal of cases against farmers, allotment of land for building a memorial for farmers who lost their lives (during the protest), suspension of Ajay Mishra Teni from the Union Cabinet over the Lakhimpur Kheri violence, along with other issues,” SKM leader Darshan Pal told mediapersons.
“We will wait for the government’s response to our letter to the Prime Minister, in which we have listed all our rightful demands. The government must hold talks to sort out all remaining issues,” he said. The farm unions will hold another meeting on December 4, he added.
Besides a statutory guarantee for MSP, the farmers want a parcel of land for a memorial to the peasants who died during the protests.
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.
On Saturday, farm leaders reiterated they were not calling of the agitation and want a law guaranteeing MSP for their crops.
“We have not called off our agitation. We want a law on MSP and talks on all our demands as soon as possible,” said Rakesh Tikait, a key face of the farmers’ movement.
The three laws to be revoked 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.
The farm unions, however, said the legislation would have left them at the mercy of large corporations, eroding their bargaining power.
The decision to scrap the laws has come ahead of crucial state elections in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state, and Punjab, where farmers are an influential voting bloc.
The SKM has also demanded sacking of Union minister of state for home Ajay Mishra Teni. The minister’s son was arrested after his vehicle ploughed through farmers returning from a protest in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri.
(With agency inputs)