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Dilli Chalo protest | Farmers stay camped on Delhi border

Police stop farmers at the Tikri border near New Delhi on November 27, 2020.   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

Tens of thousands of farmers were still camped on the Delhi-Haryana border on Friday night, on their way to the national capital for a protest against the Centre’s three new farm laws.

After a morning of tense clashes with the police, who used tear gas and water cannons in an effort to disperse the crowd, the barricades were opened in the early afternoon, and farmers invited to enter the city limits and be escorted to a designated protest site in Burari.

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By evening, however, most farmer groups had decided to stay put at the various border crossings overnight, and take a decision by Saturday morning on whether to head to the Burari grounds or demand a more visible and high-profile protest location.

The farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have mobilised under the Samyukt Kisan Morcha banner for this ‘Dilli Chalo’ agitation. They are demanding a repeal of three agricultural marketing reform laws, which they fear will affect the system of government procurement of crops at minimum support prices. They also want the Electricity Bill, 2020, which could remove free power for farmers, to be withdrawn.

On Friday, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar reiterated that the farm laws would create opportunities for farmers, and pleaded with them to end their agitation in the light of the winter chill and the COVID-19 pandemic, and instead accept the invitation for talks on December 3.

The Hindu Explains | Who gains and who loses from the farm Bills?

The day started with hundreds of farmers from Punjab and Haryana engaged in a fierce face-off with the Delhi police at the Tikri crossing. Deployed in large numbers, the police had three layers of security in place. Huge cement blocks formed the first line of defence, followed by barricades with barbed wires, and parked trucks, trailers and small commercial vehicles forming the final security layer.

The border turned into a virtual war zone with police personnel lobbing tear gas shells and aiming water cannons at farmers trying to cross over. After an hour of tense confrontation, however, the farmers stepped back to return to their vehicles to wait for more convoys to join them.

Intermittently, the police made announcements from the public address system for the farmers to return to their homes.

Also read | By using teargas, water cannons on farmers, BJP govt. has shown its anti-people character: Akhilesh

At the Singhu border crossing, farmers pelted stones and broke barricades, while the police used multiple rounds of teargas against them.

In the meanwhile, the Delhi Police, which comes under the Union Home Ministry, requested the Delhi State government for permission to convert nine city stadiums into temporary jails to restrain protesting farmers. The Aam Aadmi Party-led Delhi government refused permission early in the afternoon. “To protest peacefully is a constitutional right” and the “central government should accept farmers’ demands immediately”, said the order issued by Delhi Home Minister Satyender Jain.

Police use a water cannon as they try to prevent protesting farmers from heading towards Delhi at Kundli border in Haryana’s Sonepat on November 27, 2020.

Police use a water cannon as they try to prevent protesting farmers from heading towards Delhi at Kundli border in Haryana’s Sonepat on November 27, 2020.   | Photo Credit: PTI

 

Soon after, negotiations were held between the Delhi Police, the Delhi government, and farmer leaders at the border point, with some Punjab farmer unions joining in via telephone as they were still travelling on the Haryana highways. By 2.30 p.m., they had reached a compromise, with Delhi Police spokesperson Eish Singhal saying the protestors would be escorted to the Nirankari ground in Burari, at the northwestern tip of the city, on the condition that the protest remained peaceful.

Initially, farmers groups celebrated the decision as a victory. “This is a historic day. The government has bowed to the pressure of the farmers and is allowing them to enter Delhi. All the tactics of obstructing farmers have failed and the Modi government has conceded defeat,” said All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) leader Kiran Kumar Vissa, speaking from the Tikri border point. “This is the first time in many years that such a large number of farmers along with thousands of tractors have been allowed into Delhi for a sit-in protest.”

“We have been on the road since early yesterday morning and were stopped at barriers 15 times along the way, but finally they had to let us enter,” said Ram Kumar, a farmer from Mansa district, who is aligned with the Punjab Kisan Union. “We have come prepared to stay here until the Modi government gives in to our demands and repeals these laws. We will not leave until then, no matter what,” he added, from his perch atop one of the tractors joining a stream of vehicles surging past the barricades.

Not everyone agreed. A faction of young farmers argued that it was better to stay parked on the highway than be shunted off to the Burari grounds. Others wanted to wait for the larger convoys still on the way to arrive before making a decision, and settled down to cook and eat dinner at the crossing points.

“Our Punjab leaders are still on the way and are yet to reach the border. We have not yet had any detailed consultation with them. Our core committee will meet tonight to decide whether to go to Burari or not,” said Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh spokesperson Abhimanyu Kohar.

“Many of the groups on the way are holding out for a rally at the Ramlila grounds, as we had originally planned, but the police say that tractors cannot be allowed to disrupt traffic in that area,” said AIKSCC leader Sunilam. “Getting into Delhi and being allowed to gather at Burari may be a good first step.” Another leader who did not wish to be named warned that the farmers could not be confined in Burari and would head out to more high-profile locations such as Jantar Mantar near Parliament in a day or two.

“Our people are tired and angry after having faced so much difficulty and opposition in crossing through Haryana,” said Gurnam Singh Chaduni, leader of a major faction of the Bharatiya Kisan Union in Haryana, who arrived at the Kundli border late on Friday night with a tractor convoy that stretched eight kilometres down the highway. “We have decided to stay here overnight, and we will take a final decision only in the morning after consultations with all,” he said.

(With inputs from Saurabh Trivedi and Nikhil M. Babu)

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2021 9:50:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/dilli-chalo-protest-farmers-stay-camped-on-delhi-border/article33191296.ece

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