New Delhi: Farmer organisations in Punjab have said they will continue their agitation against the three central farm laws after negotiations with the Union government — lasting a marathon seven hours in the Capital Friday — remained inconclusive.
Many farmers have objected to the laws over the absence of any reference to Minimum Support of Price (MSP) — the minimum assured price farmers get for their produce — and there have been concerns that the government may do away with it. Punjab farmers have been protesting against the laws since they were passed in September. The protests included blockades at rail tracks.
While the Punjab Chief Minister and farmers claim the tracks have been cleared, trains — even freight trains for crucial supplies like coal for thermal plants — remain suspended in the state, with the Indian Railways citing continued safety concerns.
At the meeting Friday, chaired by Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, the central government made it clear to the farmer delegation — representing 30 organisations — that goods trains won’t be resumed unless safety concerns are addressed for the resumption of passenger operations too.
Railway Minister Piyush Goyal told the delegation that both goods and passenger trains will be started together, and the farmers should clear the tracks at the earliest.
The only breakthrough at the meeting was that the farmer leaders agreed to Tomar’s request to attend further discussions with the central government to resolve the matter
“In the meeting, it became clear that the demands of farmers and government’s position are far from a point of reconciliation and can’t be resolved immediately . I am thankful that they came and I have requested them for more such discussions,” Tomar told news agency ANI after the meeting,
In a press statement issued by the agriculture ministry later, Tomar reiterated that procurement of farm produce on MSP will continue.
Speaking to ThePrint, farmers agreed to the health ministry’s claim that the discussions will be a long-drawn process, while acknowledging that there was no walkout this time, as opposed to their earlier meeting last month.
“Unlike last time, there was no walkout. Both the agricultural ministry as well as our delegation agreed that this is a long-drawn process. In the meantime, our protest will continue. All 30 farmer organisations will meet on 18th in Chandigarh and take a call on the central government’s concerns about the resumption of train services. Our preparations to march to Delhi on the 26th will also continue in the meantime,” said Jagmohan Singh, general secretary, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Dakonda).
‘Dilli Roko’ march to continue
Thousands of farmers have called for the three farm laws — Farmers’ Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Act, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance, the Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act — to be repealed. They want a new law enacted that contains an assurance that the government will not remove the MSP provision.
Darshan Pal, the Punjab president of an organisation called the Krantikari Kisan Union and a participant at the meeting, said their protest will continue.
“We told the agriculture minister that you, other ministers in the government, and the Prime Minister himself have said that nobody is tinkering with the MSP system. It will continue. So, what is preventing you from provide for it in the law itself? That way, there will be accountability with the central government, if somebody tries to buy farm produce below the prescribed MSP.”
Kulwant Singh Sandhu, general secretary of Punjab’s Jamhuri Kisan Sabha, said some 500 farmer groups from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and other states will continue with their 26-27 November march to Delhi against the farm laws.
“The ‘Dilli Roko (Stop Delhi)’ march will go on as per schedule,” Sandhu said.
The farmers insist they will continue with their march but the Delhi government has already denied permission for it because of the Covid pandemic.
Farmers want resumption of goods trains, Centre says no
The railway ministry Friday refused to agree to the demand that goods trains be resumed in the state.
Rail Bhavan officials as well as Railway Minister Piyush Goyal, it is learnt, made it very clear that there were safety concerns because of the blockade.
“We told them that farmers have already vacated the tracks and have moved to the platform. If required, we will move out of the station but goods trains should be allowed. The railways refused to listen to us,” Pal said.