Farmers warn of march to Delhi if demands not met

Thousands of protesting farmers will enter the national capital on January 26, the Republic Day, and carry out a tractor parade if their demands for a repeal of three farm laws and a law guaranteeing minimum prices are not met by then, leaders of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a platform of farm unions, said on Saturday.

Addressing a press conference in the Capital, a seven-member team that is coordinating the protests spelt out a fresh agitation agenda spanning 15 days from January 6, which includes picketing Raj Bhavans, onward marches from six blockade sites on Delhi’s borders and a “rehearsal” for the January 26 tractor parade.

The farm leaders said they would wait for the outcome of January 4 talks with the government, and the Supreme Court’s hearing on January 5 on a clutch of petitions related to the three farm laws.

“This is our ultimatum. If all issues are not resolved and our demands not met by Republic Day, then we will start entering Delhi. The government is saying that 50% of the demands have been met. But the government has showed no signs of meeting our biggest demands,” said Yogendra Yadav, a leader of the platform coordinating the protests.

Farm unions have launched one of the largest strikes in decades to demand that the Centre revoke the three contentious laws approved by Parliament in September.

Read more| ‘Confident ongoing farm stir will end’: MoS Kailash Choudhary ahead of Jan 4 meeting

The laws essentially change the way India’s farmers do business by creating free markets, as opposed to a network of decades-old, government marketplaces, allowing traders to stockpile essential commodities for future sales and laying down a national framework for contract farming.

These laws are 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.

Together, the laws will allow big corporations and global supermarket chains to buy directly from farmers, bypassing decades-old regulations.

Farmers say the reforms will make them vulnerable to exploitation by big corporations, erode their bargaining power and weaken the government’s procurement system, whereby the government buys staples, such as wheat and rice, at guaranteed rates.

“Tractors from all neighbouring states will begin rolling into Delhi if matters are not resolved. Contingents from all current blockade sites will start moving. We will continue with our blockade of goods and services of Ambani (Reliance group) and Adani (group), including their products, malls and petrol pumps owned by them,” Darshan Pal, a senior farm union leader, said.

Read more| Protesting farmers to hold tractor parade on Jan 26 in Delhi if demands not met

The leaders slammed what they called the government’s propaganda. “The government doesn’t want to withdraw the laws because it has become an ego issue for them. They have tried to tarnish our agitation in countless ways, sometimes calling us Maoists and Khalistani (a reference to Sikh separatists),” Balbir Singh Rajewal said.

Asked what the farm unions will do if the Supreme Court were to uphold the validity of the laws, he said: “We are not a party to the case. But we will take a decision when the time is appropriate .”

In widely anticipated sixth round of talks between the Union government and protesting farm unions on December 30, the Centre agreed to spare farmers of heavy fines for crop-residue burning, as provided for in an anti-pollution ordinance, and continue the current mechanism of giving subsidised power for agricultural use, as demanded by farmers.

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