As thousands of farmers tried to enter the national capital in a massive protest march, the government Tuesday announced that a committee of chief ministers will look into their demands, even as the protesters stayed put saying they were not "satisfied" with the assurance. After meeting the protesting farmers at the Delhi-UP border here, Union Minister of State for Agriculture Gajendra Singh Shekhawat said the government was assuring the farmers to take forward their cause.
"I assure you all this. We will move court over the NGT order (to ban tractor and vehicles which are more than 10 years old)," he said. On another problem faced by the farmers about farm labour, the minister said the government would look at bringing in some changes to the minimum wage rules for rural areas to solve this problem.
"The government has formed a committee of six chief ministers to look into this issue of labour for farm. The committee is in talks to connect MNREGA with agriculture," Shekhawat added. "On behalf of (Union Home Minister) Rajnath Singh, I assure you that I will represent the farmers' interests in this committee and whatever changes would be required to link MNREGA with agriculture will be made," Shekhawat told the farmers.
The protesting farmers, however, decided to stay put at the Delhi border, where they have been stopped by the police from entering the national capital. Naresh Tikait, the chief of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), which has given the protest call, said the farmers are "not satisfied" with the government's assurance. "We will discuss this and then decide on future course of action. I cannot decide anything alone, our committee will take the decision," he added.
The farmers were marching towards Delhi over demands ranging from farm loan waiver to cut in fuel prices, but were stopped at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border with police using water cannons to disperse them. The farmers, riding tractors and trolleys, broke barricades of the UP Police and then started proceeding towards the barricades put up by the Delhi Police, a senior police officer said.
Police picketed the border with Uttar Pradesh, imposing prohibitory orders banning assembly of five or more people and holding of any public meeting, usage of any amplifier, loudspeaker, and similar instruments. The Kisan Kranti Yatra, which began from Tikait Ghat in Haridwar on 23 September, was joined by farmers from various parts of Uttar Pradesh. They came on foot, in buses and tractor trolleys.
They carried banners of Bhartiya Kisan Union, which gave the call for the march to press for a series of demands. "We are not seeking any alms from the government. We want our right," said Harmik Singh, a farmer who came from Meerut. Farmers are in distress because of high electricity prices and fuel rates shooting through the roof, he said. "Does LPG price of Rs 500 sound right to you?" he asked.
Another farmer claimed over three lakh peasants are marching towards Rajghat. Their list of demands include unconditional loan waiver for farmers, clearing of dues by sugar mills, higher prices for crops, free electricity for farms and a cut in diesel prices.
According to News18, the Centre agreed to seven out of nine demands—including a ban on 10-year-old diesel vehicles— put forth by the BKU leaders in the meeting with Rajnath. The demands regarding implementing the Swaminathan Commission and complete loan waiver have not been accepted.
However, there were loud jeers from the farmers at the Uttar Pradesh gate when they were told about the government's proposals. The crowd appeared dissatisfied with the deal and frustrated farmers were seen preparing to leave. BKU leaders said they will deliberate on whether to accept the government's proposal.
"Government didn't clear its stand on the main issue of the farmers — C2+50. That is why the farmers are dissatisfied. It didn't clear its stand even on the other main issue of loan waiver. They said they will discuss it in detail," ANI quoted BKU spokesperson as saying.
A chappal was hurled at the BKU leaders gathered to address the farmers at Uttar Pradesh Gate. Uttar Pradesh's Minister of State (Independent Charge) for Cane Development and Sugar Mills, Suresh Rana, was also on stage in the second row.
Farmers ask Rajnath to send food and water
Farmers camping near Uttar Pradesh Gate in Ghazipur asked Rajnath Singh to send some food and water their way. "We bought some food from home, but that's over and we are having to pay Rs 30 for a bottle of water and Rs 100 for a 'thali'", one farmer said. Earlier in the day, a tanker of water had apparently arrived but that was not enough for everyone there.
"The government hasn't made any arrangements for us here. But we are determined to stay here until they allow us to complete our march at Kisan Ghat," they said. We are farmers, we are used to difficulties, one of them said. "We have come walking 200 kms peacefully; we haven't hurt anyone, or damaged any public property…why are we being stopped here?"
Another farmer asked: when netas from Delhi come to UP to take out their rallies, why can't we farmers be allowed into Delhi to take out our rally?
'Are we terrorists?'
A video of an old farmer asking a police officer "are we terrorists?" went viral.
Speaking to News18, a farmer agitating at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border added, "Are we really dangerous? Are we a threat to the city-dwellers? Why is the police hitting us and firing at us? We have not come to harm anybody. Let us protest and claim our rights. We will leave after that. Why will a farmer want to disrupt normal lives?"
Kartar Singh, a farmer from Punjab, said that they can sit here for days as they are used to working under the sun. "You will get nothing by making us uncomfortable," he said. "Farmers aren't terrorists or Naxals, they're coming with demands. Don't they have the right to do that? SS Chouhan government killed farmers in Mandsaur, today they're about to lose Madhya Pradesh. Warning Modi ji if injustice with farmers continues, he'll lose Delhi," said R Shetty of Swabhimani Sattkar Sanghatana.
'Modi, Yogi save yourselves'
Akash Tyagi, a native of Meerut who lives in Delhi, is among the protestors being held back at Uttar Pradesh Gate. He is incensed that this government has made 'jawans' and 'kisans' confront each other in this manner, calling it worse than the colonial government.
"This happening on 2 October is the worst misfortune. The same state of the injured farmers who have been taken away in ambulances will be inflicted on this government by the farmers in 2019," he says. "Modi and Yogi, understand this and save yourself."
Justifying the use of water cannons and lathis against protestors on Tuesday, the Delhi Police said in a statement, "Despite persuasive methods requesting them to wait till outcome of talks of their leaders with the government, a section of crowd turned violent and tried to break barricades forcefully through tractor-trolleys and were also carrying lathis."
Despite persuasive methods requesting them to wait till outcome of talks of their leaders with govt, a section of crowd turned violent & tried to break barricades forcefully through tractor-trolleys & were also carrying lathis: Delhi Police on today's action on protesting farmers pic.twitter.com/WJ9pnDTGRm
— ANI (@ANI) October 2, 2018
Seven policemen, including an assistant commissioner of police, were injured during the protest by farmers on Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, Delhi Police said. Police said a section of crowd suddenly turned violent as police tried to persuade the protesters, who were participating in the Bharatiya Kisan Union march, not to break the barricades. Police said they used 20 tear gas shells and water cannons to manage the crowd, adding it was "minimum required force".
Opposition bats for farmers
The Communist Party of India (CPI) condemned the police action against the agitating farmers. "The farmers who were on a peaceful march towards the national capital under the banner of BKU raising their genuine demands including waiver of loans were stopped by police at the border and beaten up on a day when the nation is celebrating the birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi," the party said in a statement. Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati condemned the police action of farmers who were trying to reach the national capital to protest. She said that the BJP should be ready to face the consequences.
Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said preventing a protest march of farmers from entering the national capital was "wrong" and pitched for allowing them entry into the city. "Why are the farmers being stopped from entering Delhi. It is wrong. Delhi belongs to all. They should be given an entry to Delhi. We support their demands," he told reporters on the sidelines of an event held at the Delhi assembly to mark Gandhi Jayanti.
Speaking to reporters in Lucknow, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav assured his party's support for the marching farmers. Over 50,000 farmers have committed suicide in the past four years, mostly in BJP-ruled states, he said. "It's natural that the farmers have come to Delhi to protest. It is the Central government that has to make diesel cheaper, clear dues and implement the broken promises of MSP," Akhilesh said.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday accused the BJP of "brutally beating up" farmers at the Delhi border on International Day of Non-Violence and said they cannot even air their grievances in the national capital. Rahul's remarks came after farmers marching towards Delhi as part of the BKU protest call over demands ranging from farm loan waiver to cut in fuel prices, were stopped at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border with police using water cannons to disperse them.
"On International Day of Non-Violence, the BJP's two-year Gandhi Jayanti celebrations began with the brutal beating of farmers peacefully coming to Delhi. Now, the farmers cannot even air the grievances coming to the capital!" he tweeted in Hindi. The Hindu reported that the Congress Working Committee passes a resolution criticising the police action on farmers, especially on a day that is celebrated as non-violence day.
Rashtriya Lok Dal workers blocked NH-58 near Muzaffarnagar, condemning police action against farmers on Tuesday morning. Their leader Ajit Singh is at the Uttar Pradesh Gate to show solidarity with farmers. They blocked the highway with their bikes and tractors and raised anti-BJP slogans.
The city police on Monday imposed prohibitory orders in east and northeast Delhi, anticipating law and order problems in view of the protest. In east Delhi, the prohibitory orders issued by Deputy Commissioner of Police (East) Pankaj Singh under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, will be in force until 8 October. It covers Preet Vihar, Jagatpuri, Shakarpur, Madhu Vihar, Ghazipur, Mayur Vihar, Mandawli, Pandav Nagar, Kalyanpuri and New Ashok Nagar police station limits.
With inputs from PTI
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Updated Date: Oct 02, 2018 23:27:19 IST