Farmers reject Centre’s offer; to resume march to Delhi on February 21

Govt. wants to procure harvest on contract-based MSP, say farmers, who are upset that the plan presented to them was different from what Minister Goyal disclosed to media after their meeting

February 19, 2024 10:50 am | Updated February 20, 2024 07:24 am IST - CHANDIGARH

Farmer leaders Sarwan Singh Pandher and Jagjit Singh Dallewal address the media at the Punjab-Haryana Shambhu border during the ‘Delhi Chalo’ protest march, in Patiala district, on February 19, 2024.

Farmer leaders Sarwan Singh Pandher and Jagjit Singh Dallewal address the media at the Punjab-Haryana Shambhu border during the ‘Delhi Chalo’ protest march, in Patiala district, on February 19, 2024. | Photo Credit: PTI

Rejecting the Centre’s offer to procure five crops on minimum support price (MSP) for five years based on a contract system, protesting farmers in Punjab on February 19 announced that they would restart their ‘Delhi Chalo’ march on February 21.

The Kisan Mazdoor Morcha and the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (Non-Political) — the two umbrella bodies of around 200 farmers’ and farm labourer unions — had given the call for the ‘Delhi Chalo’ march as they planned to lay siege to the national capital to press for the fulfilment of their demands, which include a legal guarantee for MSP.

Also read | Farmers at the bottom of the food chain

“The proposal that was presented before us was different than what Union Minister Piyush Goyal disclosed before the media after the fourth round of meeting on Sunday night. In the meeting, it was proposed that for the five crops, procurement would be done on MSP. But when the Minister conveyed after the meeting that the procurement would be on a contract system, the real intention was exposed. So, after deliberating on the Minister’s statement, we have decided to reject the offer,” said Sarwan Singh Pandher, coordinator of the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha, addressing a press conference at the Shambhu Barrier in Patiala.

“On February 21, we will peacefully start our march towards Delhi. We appeal the Centre government to resolve our issues by holding talks or let us march to Delhi by removing the barricades erected on the Punjab-Haryana boundary.

The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), the umbrella body of farmer unions that spearheaded the 2020-21 farmers’ protests against the Centre’s farm laws, and the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), one of the largest outfits in Punjab have also rejected the Centre’s proposal. In Delhi, the SKM “outrightly rejected” the Centre’s proposal to have a five-year contract with farmers to procure maize, cotton, arhar/tur, masoor and urad at MSP under A2+FL+50% method (input cost and family labour) and promote crop diversification. The SKM leaders told reporters on Monday that the proposal is to divert and dilute the demand of MSP at the rate of C2 (input cost and rent of the land) +50% for all crops with guaranteed and legalised procurement.

Asking the BJP to implement its own promise in the manifesto, the SKM leaders said if the Centre is unable to fulfil the promise, then Prime Minister Narendra Modi must honestly tell that to the people. Expressing anguish at the way discussions are being held only with leaders of SKM (Non-Political), who are now protesting on the Haryana-Punjab boundary, the SKM said it will step up their agitation seeking justice to farmers.

Though not part of the SKM (Non-Political)’s protests, the SKM leaders condemned the police action on the protesters. “The Ministers are not ready to clarify whether the MSP they proposed is based on A2+FL + 50% or C2+50%. There is no transparency in the discussions though meetings have taken place four times. This is against the democratic culture established by the SKM during the 2020-21 historic farmers’ struggle,” the leaders said asking the Centre to reveal every point of discussion.

“We have nothing to do with political parties. We have protested in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Chhattisgarh and several other States. Our agitation is against the governments and its policies,” said senior SKM leader Rakesh Tikait when asked why the SKM is protesting only against the BJP.

The fourth round of meeting between Centre and farmer representatives was held on Sunday night in Chandigarh, after which Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said the meeting went in a positive direction. “Discussions were held on farmers’ demands and we have presented a road map. Farmer representatives brought forward some topics. Barring three-four issues, a consensus appeared to be emerging on the rest of the issues with innovative thinking that would help farmers of Haryana, Punjab, and rest of the country,” he said.

“A proposal was discussed in which the government agencies like NCCF and NAFED will get into a contract and buy produce maize, cotton, pulses (arhar, masoor and urad) from the farmers on MSP. There will be no limit on the quantity. Similarly, we proposed that the Cotton Corporation of India will enter into a five-year agreement with farmers to buy cotton crops at MSP. We believe that cotton should be revived in Punjab. Farmer leaders said they will get back by tomorrow [Monday] on the proposals. We hope farmers will come with a positive reply by tomorrow. The next round of meeting could be then held. I urge farmers to call off their protest,” he said.

Replying on a pointed question of giving a legal guarantee for MSP on crops, Mr. Goyal said: “There are some issues which are policy matters and need time and wider consultations. The general elections are nearing, so on such issues deliberations would continue.”

The meeting was attended by Union Ministers Arjun Munda, Piyush Goyal and Nityanand Rai and farmer leaders Jagjit Singh Dallewal and Sarwan Singh Pandher, among others. Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann also attended the meeting.

Farmers stay put

Meanwhile, protesting farmers from Punjab continued to camp near the inter-State boundary with Haryana for the seventh day. Farmers from Punjab have been camping on two stretches – Shambhu-Ambala and Khanauri-Jind – on the inter-State boundary between Haryana and Punjab, since February 13 as their Delhi Chalo march was stopped from entering Haryana amid elaborate security arrangements with multi-layer barricades.

Senior BJP leader and former Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh (retd.) met Mr. Modi and held discussions on issues related to Punjab, including farmers’ protest. He expressed confidence that it will be resolved very soon to everybody’s satisfaction.

(With inputs from A.M. Jigeesh in New Delhi)

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