More than two years after the Narendra Modi government repealed three agriculture laws following a year-long protest by farmers, state borders in North India are being sealed again to prevent another march to Delhi.
Farmers from Punjab and Haryana have announced that under the banner of the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha union, they will travel to Delhi on February 13 to protest against the Union government’s failure to fulfill the promises it had made when the farm laws were repealed in November 2021.
The Bharatiya Janata Party-led Haryana government has sealed its borders with Punjab at three places to stop farmers from entering the state. The Delhi Police, which reports to the BJP government at the Centre, has also put up barricades at the city’s Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur borders.
Mobile internet services have been suspended in seven districts of Haryana.
The Haryana Police have sent notices to farmers threatening to seize their assets if they damage public property during the protest. The police have also made announcements over loudspeakers, threatening to cancel the passports of those who participate in the protest, video footage shows.
The farmers, however, told Scroll that they plan to hold a peaceful march and were prepared for the long haul if they are not allowed to enter the capital.
What are the demands?
The Kisan Mazdoor Morcha, which gave the call for the protest march, claims to represent more than 70 farmer bodies from Punjab and Haryana. It is led by farmer leaders of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee and Samyukt Kisan Morcha – Non Political, a faction of the larger umbrella body of farm unions formed during the agriculture laws agitation.
Convenor Jagjit Singh Dallewal said that the protest was being held to remind the government of the demands it had promised to fulfill when the farm laws were repealed in November 2021. “The farm law protests were withdrawn on the conditions that the government will meet these demands,” Dallewal told Scroll.
The 12 demands include a legal guarantee on minimum support price on crops, withdrawal of cases lodged against the protestors during the farm law agitation, compensation for families of farmers who died during the protest and action against accused persons in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case, which includes the son of Union minister Ajay Mishra.
In December 2021, the Union agriculture ministry had released a letter assuring farmers that these demands will be met. A committee formed to examine the legal guarantee of minimum support price has held 37 meetings and workshops, the Union agriculture minister told Parliament earlier this month, without stating whether it has made any recommendation on the matter.
On February 8, a delegation of farmers held a meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann and three Union ministers Piyush Goyal, Arjun Munda and Nityanand Rai on the pending demands. The delegation is scheduled to hold another meeting with the Union ministers on Monday evening.
“At the first meeting, the ministers agreed to look into our demands but asked for more time to take a decision on them,” Dallewal, who was part of the farmers’ delegation, said. “We are ready to hold further talks but we will not withdraw the call for the protest march.”
Meanwhile, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of farm unions, has said it will not participate in the February 13 march.
“We support all the demands raised by those holding the protests, but the leaders who gave the call had broken away from the Samyukt Kisan Morcha in 2022 as they wanted to contest the Punjab elections,” said Inderjit Singh, the National Vice President of the All India Kisan Sabha. Singh said that the Samyukt Kisan Morcha will be holding Grameen Bharat Bandh, a countrywide rural shutdown on February 16.
“On the day of the bandh, farmers and labourers in rural areas across the country will not work to protest against the corporate loot of the agriculture sector under the Modi government,” Singh said.
Action against farmers
Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee chief Swaran Singh Pandher told Scroll that farmers from Punjab left for Haryana on Monday morning and will march towards Delhi on Tuesday.
However, to stop the farmers from Punjab, the Haryana government has put up concrete boulders, road spikes and barbed wires at three border points – Ambala-Shambhu, Khanauri-Jind and Dabwali.
Internet services have been shut down in seven districts of Haryana till February 13 midnight and large gatherings have been banned under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in 15 of the 22 districts of the state. The prohibitory orders in Chandigarh have been issued for 60 days. Petrol pump owners have also been asked not to give more than 10 litres of fuel to tractor owners.
Barricades have been put up in the border areas of Delhi and prohibitory orders have been issued against large gatherings in the enticity till March 13.
Farmer leaders from at least three districts, Ambala, Fatehabad and Jind told Scroll that they were issued notices last week ordering them to provide details of their bank accounts and assets to the police by February 10. The notice says that if public property is damaged during the protests, the bank accounts will be frozen and assets will be seized to compensate for the losses.
Tejvir Singh, a farmer from Panjokhra Sahib village of Ambala told Scroll that more than 150 leaders have gone underground since last week to avoid being detained ahead of the protest. “The police always arrest us a day or two before protests, so we were prepared this time,” Singh said. “I left home on February 3.”
Singh also claimed that the police have been threatening to cancel passports of farmers and their relatives who participate in the protests. “Over the last week, the police made these announcements on loudspeakers in our villages,” Singh said. “They have also been threatening our relatives in government jobs that they will be suspended if we go ahead with the march.”
Ambala Superintendent of Police Jashandeep Singh Randhawa confirmed that the notices for freezing of bank accounts and seizing of assets have been issued, but said that he had no information about the alleged threats of cancelling passports and suspension from jobs. When said that there were videos of policemen making announcements about passports, Randhawa said he will not be able to comment without verifying the footage.
Randhawa added that the police have asked farmers to not hold any protest without permission. “We have also urged Punjab Police to stop farmers from coming to Haryana,” he said.
Meanwhile, the farmers said that they were prepared to hunker down at the Punjab-Haryana and Delhi borders if needed. “We learnt our lessons from the protests last time,” said Tejvir Singh. “We are carrying enough food supplies to sustain us for six months and have already made arrangements for toilets and basic amenities.”
Swaran Singh Pandher of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee said that they will decide on the future course of action after taking stock of the developments over the next two days. He also expressed confidence that more farmers’ unions will join the protests.
Harinder Singh Lakhowal, the general secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Lakhowal), which is part of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, said that his organisation will not join the protest on February 13, but will hit the streets if the police take aggressive action against the protestors.
Inderjit Singh of the All India Kisan Sabha also criticised the blocking of roads and internet, calling them undemocratic measures. “We are not part of the protest march but the government’s actions cannot be supported either,” he added.