Farmers’ protests | Unions reject government proposal to suspend laws for 18 months

The decision was taken after a tumultuous five hour meeting of the full general body of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a joint front representing about 500 protesting groups.

January 21, 2021 09:26 pm | Updated 11:52 pm IST - New Delhi

Farmers watch a kabaddi match at Singhu border in New Delhi on January 21, 2021.

Farmers watch a kabaddi match at Singhu border in New Delhi on January 21, 2021.

Protesting farm unions have rejected the Centre’s proposal to suspend the three farm reform laws for one and a half years. They intend to continue their agitation until the three laws are repealed, and a legislation guaranteeing minimum support prices for all farmers is enacted.

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The decision was taken after a tumultuous five hour meeting of the full general body of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), a joint front representing about 500 protesting groups, at the Singhu protest site on the Delhi-Haryana border on Thursday evening. The unions will inform the Centre of their decision at the eleventh round of talks on Friday.

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Later in the evening, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar met with Home Minister Amit Shah at his residence. Mr. Tomar will lead the delegation of Central Ministers at the eleventh round of talks.

Keeping up the pressure, the unions reiterated their plan to conduct a tractor parade inside the capital on Republic Day, despite police opposition. “In the meeting held with the police officials [on Thursday morning], the police requested not to conduct the parade in Delhi, while the farmers restated their plan about doing the parade on the outer ring road of Delhi,” said the SKM statement. In fact, Punjab unions conducted a rehearsal on Thursday, with more than 15,000 tractors taking part in 16 districts across the state, according to Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) state secretary Sukhdev Singh.

Noting that 147 farmers have died during the protest so far, the SKM said that “their sacrifice will not go in vain and we will not go back without the repealing of these farm laws .”

Tens of thousands of farmers have been protesting on the borders of Delhi for almost two months now. After nine rounds of talks ended in stalemate, the Centre offered a partial concession during the tenth round on Thursday, saying that the laws could be kept in abeyance for 18 months while dialogue continued in a joint committee. Unions had said they would consider the proposal.

According to some union leaders who did not wish to be named, during the SKM meeting, a suggestion was made to submit a counter offer asking for suspension of the farm laws for a longer period of four to five years, rather than an outright rejection of the Centre's offer. However, this was not acceptable to the whole group, they said.

“Suspension is not the same as repeal. Our demand has always been that the laws should be repealed,” said Rakesh Tikait, who heads one faction of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), adding that even a longer suspension would not be acceptable.

“Suspending the laws for a year or for a year and a half would cost the farmers dearly and the sword will keep hanging over their heads in the same way,” said BKU-Ekta Ugrahan secretary Shingara Singh Mann.

“The farmers have decided that this offer to keep the laws pending for 18 months is just a ruse and a ploy. They are basically telling us, you go away from here, stop this agitation. And therefore we feel there must be some strength in this agitation, some truth in this agitation, some value in this agitation. Why should we give it up?  We are not in any hurry,” said Avik Saha, convenor of the Jai Kisan Andolan. “If the opponent believes in their own position, they would not have given up, just as the farmers are not giving up... The more the government gives in, the stronger will be our belief,” he added.

The three contentious laws were passed by Parliament in September, with the Centre claiming they would remove the middleman from agricultural marketing, drive investment in post-harvest infrastructure, and increase farm incomes. Protesting farmers say the laws are unconstitutional, will weaken the existing government procurement system and lead to corporate exploitation of small farmers.

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