SKM forms 5-member panel to talk with Centre on pending demands
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) on Saturday formed a five-member panel for talks with the government on their pending demands, even as the group, which was spearheading the protest against the now repealed farm laws, announced it will continue its agitation until all demands are met .
On November 29, the Centre repealed the three agricultural laws farmers had been protesting against for over a year.
With the latest move, crucial talks between the Union government and protesting farm unions could resume in a few weeks after nearly a year of pause. “Talks are possible soon but it all depends on when the government sends its invitation,” Hannan Mollah, who is on the SKM’s committee for presumptive negotiations, said.
Farmer leaders Balbir Singh Rajewal, Ashok Dhawle, Shiv Kumar Kakka, Gurnam Singh Chaduni and Yudhvir Singh were named the members of the committee after a meeting was held by the SKM. The SKM panel will focus on pending demands including on minimum support price, compensation to the kin of farmers who died during the movement against the agriculture laws and withdrawal of cases against the protesters, farmer leader Rakesh Tikait said.
He said that the next meeting of the morcha will take place on December 7 to decide the future course of the movement. The SKM has decided they will not move from the Delhi border protest site until all their demands are met.
The Union government is indirectly talking to some farm leaders to prepare the ground for a dialogue over a slew of remaining demands by cultivators, according to a person aware of the matter.
Mollah said the farmers’ platform set up the five-member panel after a request by the Centre to keep the team of negotiators small. He said Union home minister Amit Shah held telephonic conversations with farm leaders Balbir Singh Rajewal and Yudhvir Singh. “This not good enough. We need a formal dialogue to start soon,” he said.
Farmer leader Dhawle said the issues of compensation to be given for the farmers who died, “false cases” lodged against farmers and the Lakhimpur Kheri incident were discussed at the meeting on Saturday.
The Union government hasn’t announced a date for the two sides to get back on the table and the SKM said it will respond only when an official invitation is extended to the farmers by the Centre.
After 11 rounds of talks, the Centre withdrew from the dialogue process on January 22 this year after a deadlock. At the time, the Union government viewed as sweeping calls by farm unions to scrap the laws. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 19 said his government would abandon the legislation at the heart of massive protests by tens of thousands of farmers.
The farmers said the government would have to cancel all criminal cases registered against protesting farmers in various states, especially Haryana, a major arena of the farm protests.
In separate talks with Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Friday by a team of farm leaders that included Gurnam Singh Chaduni and Inderjit Singh, the Haryana government for the first time acknowledged that it was prepared to take back cases.
“The Haryana chief minister said cases would be withdrawn but he did not even in principle accept our demand that families of martyred farmers be compensated monetarily,” Inderjit said.
The two sides – the Haryana government and the farm leaders led by Chaduni – could not agree on the number of cases to be withdrawn. Farm unions say 45,000 protesting farmers had been named as accused in various police complaints, while the government put the figure at 32,000.
“(The) Samyukt Kisan Morcha held a crucial meeting today to discuss about pending demands of the farmers’ movement and the lack of a formal response from the Government of India. It was decided unanimously that the farmers’ agitation will continue as is, until formal and satisfactory responses are obtained from the Government of India,” the SKM said in a release.
Bringing a law to guarantee minimum prices for farm produce is a top pending demand. Besides, farm unions also want the cancelling of the Electricity Amendment Bill 2020/2021, which proposes to replace subsidised agricultural power with direct cash benefits.
The SKM also wants a section of a law on pollution in the National Capital Region deleted. The section empowers authorities to fine farmers for burning crop residue, a major cause of air pollution.
The farmers also want withdrawal of all cases slapped on protesting farmers in states such as Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chandigarh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan.
They also want a parcel of land to erect a memorial for 702 farmers who have died during the course of their year-long agitation and their families rehabilitated with compensation.