Farmers agitation likely to end as Centre 'accepts' most demands

The SKM, an umbrella body of around 40 farmers' bodies, will hold another meeting Wednesday before formally announcing its decision

Farmers celebrate at the Singhu border in Delhi. Credit: AFP Photo

The year-long agitation of farmers against the three contentious farm laws, which were withdrawn last week, is likely to end soon with the government having met “nearly all demands” raised by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM).

However, some points of divergence still remain, mainly on the issue of the timing of the withdrawal of cases against protesters and the constitution of the panel on MSP.

While the government offered to withdraw cases after the agitation is called off, SKM, an umbrella body of over 40 farmers' unions, is insisting on the quashing of FIRs as a pre-requisite for withdrawing the agitation.

The agitation could be called off as early as Wednesday but a final decision on it would be taken on Wednesday afternoon after another round of meeting by the protesting unions, who seem to have reached a consensus on their final course of the agitation, which has kept the political pot boiling in the country since November 26 last year.

The decision has been taken after the Centre gave the proposal in writing to the farm leaders on Tuesday regarding withdrawing the cases lodged against farmers in the course of the year-long protest and setting up a committee for a law on MSP.

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“SKM confirms to have received a written draft proposal from the Home Ministry of Government of India — SKM will seek further clarifications on a few points from the government’s proposal and will re-convene tomorrow for further discussion,” it said in a statement after discussing the proposal “constructively.”

“We have replied to the letter of the government. The government is saying that it will withdraw cases once the farmers withdraw the agitation. They are asking farmers to go back on this promise. But who will trust them like this? We will discuss it in a meeting over this,” SKM leader Rakesh Tikait said.

The protesting unions are also opposed to the inclusion of “pro-farm bill” leaders in the panel on MSP and in their reply to the government, demanded that only members from SKM should be included in the MSP panel. The government has proposed that the committee will include farmers from outside the SKM as well, besides scientists and representatives from the Central and the state governments.

SKM had earlier nominated five members, Balbir Singh Rajewal, Ashok Dhawle, Shiv Kumar Kakka, Gurnam Singh Chaduni and Yudhvir Singh, for the panel on December 4.

Home Minister Amit Shah is reported to have asked a leader of the SKM on the setting up of the MSP panel after which some forward movement began.

SKM leader Balbir Singh Rajewal categorically said that the farmers' unions will not accept the government’s condition that cases against farmers will be withdrawn after the agitation is called off.

Another farmer leader Kulwant Singh Sandhu claimed “nearly all demands raised by us have been met” referring to the government’s letter regarding assurances on farmers' demands.

While he claimed that a “consensus” has been reached, the farmer union leaders from Haryana appeared adamant about the withdrawal for FIRs first.

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The Central government, in its proposal to SKM, said, “The governments of UP and Haryana (both BJP-ruled)  have given full consent that cases lodged during the agitation against farmers will be withdrawn soon after the agitation is ended. The departments related to Government of India (Railways) and the Union Territory (Chandigarh) have also agreed to withdraw the cases after the agitation is ended. Even for compensation, UP and Haryana governments have given their in-principle consent. Even the government of Punjab has made public announcements on these two subjects.”

Referring to all the five demands of SKM, including objections to electricity bill and removing criminal liability clause from the electricity bill, the Central government said, “In this way, all five demands have been appropriately addressed. Now there is no justification for continuing the farmer agitation.”

Three days after the first anniversary of the farmer agitation on November 26, the government, on the first day of the Winter Session of Parliament on November 29, repealed the three contentious laws, namely Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

The withdrawal was done 10 days after Modi, on November 19, in a televised address to the nation, announced that the government will repeal the laws as it could not convince a section of farmers about the benefits of the new farm laws.

The move, coming just months before elections in agrarian states of Punjab and UP, two epicentres of protests, along with Haryana, was criticised by the Opposition as a delayed decision taken due to electoral considerations.

 

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