Farmers' Protest: Decision on Centre's letter for talks today, say leaders; Kerala guv says no to special Assembly session

Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said he was hopeful that the protesting unions would complete their internal discussion soon and come forward for talks.

FP Staff December 23, 2020 00:18:56 IST
Farmers' Protest: Decision on Centre's letter for talks today, say leaders; Kerala guv says no to special Assembly session

Members of different farmer organizations shout at a protest against new agricultural laws in Mumbai. AP

A decision on the Centre's offer for next round of talks will be taken after consulting farmers leaders from across the country on Wednesday, said cultivators protesting at the borders of Delhi on Tuesday as Union Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said he was hopeful that the unions will soon resume discussions to end the deadlock.

Meanwhile, the Delhi High Court women lawyers' forum decided to fast on Wednesday and AITUC and affiliated unions said they will observe "Skip Lunch" day in solidarity with the farmers who have been protesting against the Centre's three contentious farm laws at the borders of Delhi for 27 days.

In Maharashtra, the farmers' vehicle march to Delhi continued and as per NDTV, it had entered Dhule district via Malegaon.

The vehicle march, led by leaders of the Kisan Sabha, had started from Nashik on Monday and is expected to reach Delhi on Thursday via the Mumbai-Agra highway.

During the day another group of farmers staged a protest outside the office of Mumbai suburban district collector for their demand to repeal the farm laws.

The protesters claimed the new laws would only benefit big corporates rather than the farmers. "We want farmer-friendly laws," one of the protesters said. The protest was supported by the 'Prahar' organisation, headed by Maharashtra minister Bacchu Kadu.

In Uttar Pradesh, a group of farmers who were on their way to join the protesters clashed with police when they were stopped at Rampur-Moradabad toll plaza on NH-24.

Some of the protesters mobbed the official vehicle of a senior police officer while some others confronted other personnel during the chaos that led to a long traffic jam, according to purported videos that surfaced on social media. Thousands of farmers mainly from Haryana and Punjab have been camping at the borders of Delhi since 26 November demanding that the rollback of the three farm laws.

Enacted in September, the three farm laws have been projected by the central government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove the middlemen and allow farmers to sell anywhere in the country. However, the protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of Minimum Support Price and do away with the mandi system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.

The government has repeatedly asserted that the MSP and Mandi systems will stay and has accused the Opposition of misleading the farmers.

Farmers groups to decide on talks with Centre tomorrow

Addressing a press conference at Delhi's Singhu Border, farmer leader Kulwant Singh Sandhu said that 32 farmer unions from Punjab held a meeting and discussed the next course of action. A meeting of farmer leaders from across India would be held on Wednesday where a decision on the government's talks offer will be taken, said Sandhu.

The farmer leader also said that they would write to Britain's MPs, and ask them to press their Prime Minister Boris Johnson not to attend India's Republic Day celebrations on 26 January. Johnson has accepted the invitation to be the chief guest at the event next month.

In a letter to 40 union leaders on Sunday, Joint Secretary in the Union Agriculture Ministry Vivek Aggarwal, had asked protesting farmer leaders to specify their concerns over its earlier proposal of amendments in the laws and choose a convenient date for the next round of talks so that the ongoing agitation could end at the earliest.

At least five rounds of formal talks have failed to break the deadlock as the agitating unions have not agreed to anything less than repeal of the laws. The sixth round of talks on 9 December was cancelled following a deadlock with the farmer unions refusing to budge from their demand for repealing the three laws.

At the press conference on Tuesday, Sandhu said that farmer leaders will observe "Shaheedi diwas" from 23-26 December. Protesting unions have already given a call to halt toll collection on highways in Haryana from 25-27 December.

Two groups extend support; Centre says hopeful of resolution

The two unions (UP-based Kisan Sangarsh Samithi (KSS) and Delhi-based Indian Kisan Union) extended support to the legislation.

Tomar said, "Representatives of different farmers' bodies had come to tell that the laws are good and are in the interest of farmers. They had come to urge the government not make any amendments to the laws."

After meeting two peasants groups from Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, the Union agriculture minister said, "I am hopeful they (protesting farmers' unions) will soon complete their internal discussions and come forward for talks. We will be able to find a solution successfully."

While interacting with members of international media from the Foreign Correspondents' Club of South Asia earlier in the day, Tomar asserted that the new farm reforms will herald a new era in Indian farming and said the government is still willing to continue talks with protesting unions on all contentious issues.

"The government has had many rounds of talks with farmer unions and is willing to continue the dialogue on contentious issues, clause by clause, with an open mind," an official statement said.

Opposition Congress walks out of Uttarakhand Assembly

Congress MLAs walked out of the Uttarakhand Assembly when state Agriculture Minister Subodh Uniyal accused the party of being hand in glove with middlemen and fomenting the agitation to retrieve its lost political ground.

The Congress members led by Leader of Opposition Indira Hridayesh rose from their seats in protest when Uniyal said they did not seem to have read the new farm laws thoroughly and their party was misleading farmers to suit its own political ends.

The heated exchange between the treasury and opposition benches was witnessed in the Assembly during a debate on the admissibility of an adjournment motion on the new farm laws.

Kerala governor says no to special Assembly session

Meanwhile in Kerala, Governor Arif Mohammed Khan rejected the state governments proposal to convene a special Assembly session on Wednesday to discuss and pass a resolution against the farm laws.

Kerala agricultural Minister VS Sunil Kumar termed Khan's decision as 'undemocratic', while opposition Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said it was unfortunate and against "democratic values".

After the government forwarded the decision to convene the session, Khan sought a clarification on the urgency for it and the chief minister had replied to him, sources told PTI adding that the session would not be held on Wednesday .

Incidentally, a regular session of the Assembly has already been planned from 8 January and it was likely to continue till 28 January.

BJP state president K Surendran, in a statement, said the three laws were passed by both the Houses of Parliament and had come into force after receiving the president's assent. The attempt by the government and the Opposition to pass a resolution against the three agri laws was to "insult democracy" and was also unconstitutional, he alleged.

Earlier, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) Opposition took out a march to the Raj Bhavan to express solidarity with
the farmers protesting in Delhi.

A group of protesters showed black flags to Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar and even tried to block his convoy in Ambala City.  The farmers had gathered at the grain market and also tried to block the Ambala-Hisar highway.  Khattar had come to Ambala to address public meetings in support of the BJP's mayoral and ward candidates for the upcoming civic bodies polls.

Congress seeks president's intervention

The Congress sought President Ram Nath Kovind's intervention for withdrawal of the three farm laws and said a memorandum signed by two crore farmers would be handed over to him on 24 December by a party delegation led by Rahul Gandhi.

AICC general secretary KC Venugopal said the Congress party had launched a nationwide campaign for collecting memoranda of appeals addressed to the President of India signed by the farmers, farm labourers and other stakeholders opposing these legislations right from the initial stage of introduction of these bills in Parliament.

Traffic disrupted at Delhi borders

In Delhi, a group of protesters, mainly residents of Jewar and Dadri in Greater Noida, came out on roads in support of the laws and was stopped by police at Mahamaya Flyover.

Normal traffic movement on the Greater Noida-Noida route was restored after a disruption that lasted around three hours, Delhi Traffic Police officials told PTI.

However, one carriageway (Noida to Delhi) remained closed at Chilla border where scores of members of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu) are camping since 1 December in protest against the three new farm laws. "The other carriageway (Delhi to Noida) at Chilla is open. Commuters may take the DND or the Kalindi Kunj routes if travelling between Noida and Delhi to avoid inconvenience, the official said.

The Gazipur border was also closed due to the farmers protest, the Traffic Police said on Twitter.

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