New Delhi: The Union government and farmers’ groups have broadly reached a settlement on five out of the six pending demands of protesting farmers, following which the year-long protest at Delhi’s borders were called off Thursday.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of farmers’ groups leading the protests, received a letter Thursday from the government with revised proposals to resolve their pending demands. The letter was signed by Sanjay Agarwal, secretary to the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare. ThePrint has seen a copy of this letter.
The SKM subsequently held a meeting at Delhi’s Singhu border and called off the protests.
According to the letter, with regard to the farmers’ demand for a law guaranteeing a minimum support price (MSP) for foodgrains, the government has agreed to set up a committee. It has also agreed to discuss the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2021, with farmers’ groups before it is tabled in Parliament.
The government has promised compensation for farmers who died during the protests, and said it will appeal to states to withdraw cases registered against farmers during the agitation. It has also exempted farmers from criminal liability under anti-pollution laws for burning crop stubble.
However, the government letter is silent on the SKM’s demand for the removal of Union Minister of State Ajay Mishra in connection with the Lakhimpur Kheri incident on 3 October.
The SKM said in a statement Thursday that it “formally announces the lifting of the morchas at Delhi borders on national highways and various other locations”.
“The current agitation stands suspended… The SKM dedicates the fabulous and historic victory of the struggle to around 715 martyrs of the movement, including those in Lakhimpur Kheri. SKM congratulates all the protesting farmers and citizens, and their supporters, wholeheartedly for waging an unprecedented struggle and for the glorious gains of the movement,” it added.
The three controversial farm laws that primarily triggered the protests were repealed by the Modi government in the ongoing winter session.
Farm laws and six demands
The three controversial laws were the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. When they were enacted, the Opposition had accused the government of pushing them through without discussion.
While the Union government said the laws sought to open up the country’s food market to greater participation of private players and bring much-needed reforms to the agriculture sector, farmers’ groups said they would favour big corporations and affect the livelihoods of farmers.
Protests against the laws started in Punjab and eventually spread to Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, and several other states. Large groups of protesters gathered at Delhi’s borders — Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur — and remained there for a year. The SKM said Thursday that the farmers at Delhi’s borders would return home on 11 December.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the withdrawal of the three contentious farm laws on 19 November. Parliament passed a Bill to repeal them on 29 November without any debate.
However, the farmers continued their protests after the laws were repealed. They maintained their demand for a law guaranteeing MSP. This is the minimum rate at which the government is supposed to procure foodgrains (applicable on 23 crops) from farmers. It currently operates broadly as a policy measure without statutory backing.
Farmers’ groups also demanded the withdrawal of cases registered against farmers across states during the agitation. Most of these involved charges such as rioting and unlawful assembly.
Additionally, they demanded exemption from criminal liability under anti-pollution laws for burning crop stubble, compensation for the families of farmers who died during the protests, and the withdrawal of the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2021, scheduled to be tabled in Parliament in the ongoing session.
In addition, the farmers demanded the sacking of Union Minister of State Ajay Mishra in connection with the Lakhimpur Kheri incident. On 3 October, a convoy that included a vehicle owned by the minister with his son as one of the suspected passengers, allegedly ran over a group of protesting farmers, triggering violence. A total of 8 people were killed.
The SKM and the Union government, farmer leaders and government officials told ThePrint, had negotiated for the past two days before they reached a settlement. The proposals were sent back and forth several times between the government and a five-member negotiating team from the SKM, they added.
In the revised proposal to resolve the MSP issue, the government has agreed to set up a committee that will include representatives from the SKM, as well as central and state government officials. According to the government’s letter to the SKM, it has said it would not reduce current levels of procurement of foodgrains at assured prices.
The government also said that police cases registered against farmers during the agitation would be withdrawn. “While Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana government have already agreed to withdrawal of cases, the Union government will appeal to other state governments as well to withdraw cases against farmers,” the revised proposal said.
It also assured farmers that they would be exempted from criminal liability under anti-pollution laws for cases concerning crop stubble burning. According to senior government officials and two farm leaders, the government had given indications in December 2020, during talks with farmers’ unions, that it would agree to this demand without much hassle.
The government also agreed to provide compensation for farmers who died in the protest, saying the Punjab government had already announced its own payments, and that Uttar Pradesh and Haryana had also given consent in this regard.
The Union government has also agreed to hold discussions with farmers’ groups before the Electricity (Amendment) Bill is tabled in Parliament.
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)
This report has been updated to include fresh statements from farmer leaders Yogendra Yadav and Rakesh Tikait.