Potestors united and clear on demand: Repeal of 3 ‘black’ agricultural laws and ammendment to Essential Commodities Act
It is an unprecedented gathering at Singhu border gate in Delhi. Lakhs of farmers from Punjab and Haryana are sitting on dharna, vowing to not let up till the three farm bills passed by the Centre in September are repealed.
There are long rows of tractors and trailers which contain food items, beddings, fuel and other essentials.
Farmers have also gathered at Tikri border and the Ghaziabad-Delhi border, even as many others are on their way and continue to move towards Delhi.
There is no plan to relent, the farmers say, despite the chilling Delhi cold or the increasing cases of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the national capital.
“We have made our tractor and trailers our home. We have enough supply of ration for at least six months and if we need something, our brothers who are back home will send or get it here. We are not going to move from here till the government takes back the three black laws,” said Nichhattar Singh, a farmer from Mohali, Punjab, who reached Singhu two days ago.
He refers to the three farm-related laws enacted in Parliament’s Monsoon session.
The arrangement is such that in case some farmers need to go back, others will take their place as.
“In our Sikh community, there is never a shortage of food. Our langars are continuing. We can survive on one meal a day also,” said Gurvinder Singh Koomkalan, General Secretary, BKU (Lakhowal), who is sitting on protest at Kundli border.
There have been protests earlier too also on other issues, but none like this with so many farmers joining cause.
The three laws are:
- Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, which allows the sale of agricultural produce outside the mandis or markets regulated by the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs) and constituted by different state legislations
- The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance Act
- The Farm Services Act, which facilitates contract farming
There is also the the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020, which deregulates production, supply, distribution of food items like cereals, pulses, potatoes, onion and edible oilseeds.
Farmers fear these dilute minimum support prices for crops, the government procurement regime and the mandi (wholesale market) set-up. They also fear a potential takeover of the market by corporate bodies.
“Our farmer unions units got disintegrated in Punjab in the last few years; but these laws have brought us together,” Koomkalan said.
The Union government November 27, 2020 offered protestors the Burari Nirankari park for their sit-in. It also invited the heads of 32 farmers’ organisations from Punjab for talks on December 3.
On November 28 Union home minister Amit Shah, however, said talks could be held even earlier if the farmers shift to Burari.
While a few left for Burari initially, many have stayed put at the border; they want to be allowed to protest at the Ramlila ground or Jantar Mantar. The Morcha had sought permission for Ramlila ground.
“Going to Burari will not help; nobody will come to us. The police will make the ground a prison,” Singh said.
While some farmers Down To Earth spoke to on Sunday said they would move to Ramlila Maidan if government agrees to it, others said they would not move from Singhu border.
“Why did they stop us before and used water cannons and lathis on us? If they would have allowed us to enter peacefully, we would have cooperated with the government. Our brothers have been injured. The only solution now is repealing the black laws,” said Jaswant Singh, a farmer from Punjab’s Mohali and a member of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) (Siddhupur).
What about COVID-19
Delhi Police barricade for protesting farmers with a sign warning of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Shagun Kapil
Most farmers are without masks — essential to prevent COVID-19/ Their point: the new laws are a bigger threat than the pandemic.
“When our livelihood is under threat, how can we worry about a virus,” said Simranjeet Singh from Kaithal district in Haryana, who emphasised that he wasn’t associated with any union.
“There are many like me here; our livelihood will be affected by these laws. We are not here because of the call by farmer unions. This is a do-or-die situation. Even if tomorrow unions broker a deal with the government, we won’t stop protests,” he added.
The movement has come amid the Rabi sowing season. Demonstrating farmers, however, say their families and neighbours would irrigate their lands and spread insecticide / pesticide as required.
The farmer’ bodies have decried government attempts to talk through the home ministry and intelligence agencies. They seek unconditional talks.
According to a statement by All-India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC):
The government, if it is serious about addressing the demands of the farmers, should stop laying down any conditions (“you move to Burari Grounds in a ‘structured way’ and then we will start a dialogue the next day”), should stop assuming that the dialogue can be about “an explanation to farmers about the benefits of the Acts” and should come straight out with a proposal about the solution it is offering. The farmers are clear about their demands.
The committee alleged that the deployment of uniformed personnel across the city was creating an atmosphere of terror and apprehension. “Barricades in the path of the farmers have not been removed even now,” it added.
Meanwhile, at Singhu border, farmers are in for the long haul. “Now we will only move from here if the laws are repealed and recommendations in Swaminathan report are applied,” said Gurnam Singh from Sirsa district in Haryana.
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