New Delhi: The agitating farmers’ unions on Thursday rejected the Centre’s offer to suspend the three controversial agricultural reform laws for 18 months and set up a joint committee to address their grievances. The unions also rejected a suggestion by the Delhi police to hold their proposed Republic Day tractor rally on the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway instead of Delhi’s busy Outer Ring Road.
However, late on Thursday night, some of the farmers’ leaders said a final decision was yet to be taken on the government’s proposal and the next course of action would depend on the eleventh round of talks with the Centre at Vigyan Bhavan on Friday. Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar also rushed to Union home minister Amit Shah’s residence late on Thursday to discuss the future course of action. Mr Tomar has been leading the government side in the talks along with railway and commerce minister Piyush Goyal and minister of state for commerce Som Parkash, who is an MP from Punjab.
Earlier on Thursday, at the general body meeting of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of the protesting farmers’ unions, the members reiterated their demand for a full repeal of the three laws and enacting of legislation for remunerative MSP. Generally, the representatives of 41 farmers’ unions had been participating in such meetings, but the meeting on Thursday was attended by about 80 farmers’ unions.
After the meeting, a statement issued by the Morcha said: “The proposal put forth by the government yesterday was rejected. A full repeal of three Central farm laws and enacting legislation for remunerative MSP for all farmers were reiterated as the pending demands of the movement.”
The union leaders also paid homage to the 143 farmers martyred in this agitation which has been going on at Delhi’s borders for the last 57 days. The morcha said: “These companions are separated from us while fighting this mass movement. Their sacrifice will not go in vain and we will not go back without the repealing of these farm laws.”
On Wednesday, when the Centre put forward the offer during their tenth round of talks with the farmers, the union leaders said they would decide upon it only after holding internal consultations. The next round of talks with the government has been scheduled for Friday.
The three laws were already stayed by the Supreme Court till further orders. An experts’ committee set up by the court to find a solution to the impasse after studying the farm laws and talking to the stakeholders also held its first virtual meeting with 10 farmers’ organisations on Thursday. None of the unions which interacted with the panel have been protesting at Delhi’s borders.
The farmers’ organisation which interacted with the panel were from Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Telangana and Tamil Nadu. The panel will submit its report to the Supreme Court within two months.
A statement by the panel said: “The farmers’ unions participated in the discussion and gave their frank opinion, including suggestions to how to improve the implementation of the laws.”
Currently, the panel has three members -- Maharasthra-based Shetkari Sanghatana chief Anil Ghanwat and agri-economists Ashok Gulati and Pramod Kumar Joshi. Bhartiya Kisan Union president Bhupinder Singh Mann has recused himself from the committee.
While the protesting farmers decided not to appear before the panel, they have also decided to go ahead with their peaceful tractor march on Republic Day on Delhi’s Outer Ring Road. After meeting police officers from Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, Swaraj Abhiyan chief Yogendra Yadav said the police wanted the farmers’ leaders to take out the tractor rally outside the national capital. “We will hold our parade peacefully inside Delhi. They wanted us to hold the tractor rally outside Delhi, which is not possible,"” he said.
Thousands of tractors in four tiers -- the first led by representatives of the protesting farmers’ unions and the second by women -- will move out in a parade from different protest sites at Delhi’s borders on January 26. The third tier will have the youth, while volunteers and others will make up the fourth tier.
BKU (Ekta Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan said they will synchronise the plan with the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha. Tractors will move from the Tikri, Singhu, Shahjahanpur, Palwal and Ghajipur borders on to Delhi’s Outer Ring Road and will have tableaus displaying the plight of farmers.
The bulk of the tractors in the parade will be those now on the way to the borders from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand. “Not more than 10 per cent of tractors already parked at the protest sites on Delhi’s borders will take part in the parade. The tractors and trolleys parked at the borders are our home away from home, and we don’t want to empty out the dharna sites. The protests at these sites will go on as usual,” said Jagseer Singh Kothaguru, a farmers’ leader from the BKU (Ugrahan) group.
A unique campaign – “Bharat Ke Mann Ki Baat Suno, Kisaano Ke Mann Ki Baat Suno” -- has also been initiated by “Hamari Awaaz”, an umbrella group under which several professionals and volunteers joined hands. Kanwar Deep Kaur, one of those behind the campaign, said the group’s aim was to make it the world’s biggest letter drive.
Ms Kaur said already 10,000-plus postcards have been filled by farmers and ordinary people supporting the agriculturists. “We have kept the postcards at the Singhu and Tikri border protest sites, where volunteers are getting them filled by farmers. Volunteers are also getting postcards filled in different districts. Many send messages online and we write it on the postcards on their behalf,” she said.