After a dramatic standoff with the police at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border on Tuesday, thousands of farmers who had marched to the Capital from Haridwar called off their protest when government officials agreed to meet seven of their 11 demands.
Thousands of farmers affiliated to the Bharatiya Kisan Union had started to marched their way to Delhi from Haridwar from September 23, but were stopped at the border. Even as they faced tear gas and water cannons from paramilitary forces, a farmers’ delegation held discussions with Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Union Minister of State for Agriculture Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.
Here is a list of the demands put forward by farmers and how the government reacted to them.
Agreed: Timely payments for sugarcane
In June, the government announced a bailout package of Rs 8,000 crore for the sugar industry to purchase stocks from farmers. But many farmers said they had not been paid in months. According to Yudhvir Singh, general secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Union who was at the meeting with officials, the government said that the backlog of Rs 5,500 crore had been released and the pending amount would be released before November 30.
Agreed: Lifting ban on old tractors
In 2015, the National Green Tribunal imposed a ban on diesel-run vehicles that are older than ten years. This also included tractors. The ban was implemented with the aim of curbing pollution around Delhi and the National Capital Region. At the meeting, the government told the delegation that it would file a review petition to the National Green Tribunal to lift the ban on such vehicles.
Agreed: Insurance scheme for crops
The government agreed to institute a farmer-friendly insurance scheme covering all types of crops. The scheme would also cover fire and theft. Singh added that the government promised to set up a committee to review the insurance scheme. He also said that the separate demand to put a plan in place to contain problems caused by wildlife would be worked on in conjunction with the insurance scheme. “The government also said that they would start a pilot project to keep these animals in protected areas, away from the farms,” Singh said.
Agreed: Reducing Goods and Services Tax on farm equipment
Farmers demanded that equipment and machinery used in cultivation and irrigation be kept out of the Goods and Services Tax regime. A rate of 12% is currently being levied on irrigation equipment, making it more expensive for farmers to buy. After the meeting, the Centre said it would approach the GST Council to reduce the rate at which farming equipment was taxed. It was decided that farming equipment would be taxed from zero to 5% under the Goods and Services Tax regime, Singh said.
Agreed: Curbing crop imports
Farmers want the government to restrict imports of crops that are abundantly produced in India. They also want agriculture to be be kept out of the purview of the World Trade Organisation and not be included in free trade agreements. Singh said that the government assured them that trade agreements would be framed to place conditions on crop imports.
Agreed: Farmers to be consulted about MNREGA
The union wants farmers to be consulted by the Centre in decisions pertaining to linking agricultural labour with the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. This scheme provides at least 100 days of wage employment a year to every household. Farmers want the two areas connected because they experience a shortage of labour during the sowing season due to MNREGA. Singh said that this demand was accepted and that the Centre agreed to include farmers’ representatives in mechanisms to coordinate the Act.
Not agreed: Implementing Swaminathan report and loan waivers
In 2006, the National Commission on Farmers headed by agricultural scientist MS Swaminathan submitted a report to the government with suggestions on making the farming sector more sustainable and competitive. The report also recommended that the minimum support price at which the government buys some crops from farmers be set at 50% over and above the cost of production. This, along with blanket loan waivers was among the demands put forth by the farmers to the government. At the meeting, the government delegation told the farmers that this was a “financial issue” and had to be deliberated upon, said Singh. He said: “The government has still not cleared its stand on these issues.”
Not agreed: Special session of Parliament
As with many previous farmers’ rallies conducted by various unions across the country, the Bharatiya Kisan Union also demanded a special session of Parliament to only discuss issues related to farmers and the agrarian crisis. But Singh said that it was rejected as the government said this would come under the general debate.
Not agreed: Government jobs for farmers’ families
According to data from the home ministry, 17 farmers committed suicide every day in 2016. The union wants the government to give a job to one relative of a farmer who kills himself but officials have not accepted this demand, Singh said.
Not agreed: Pension scheme for farmers
The union also demanded for a pension scheme of Rs 5,000 per month for small and regional farmers who are above 60 years of age. This demand was not accepted. “In the meeting, the government said that every state has its own pension scheme for senior citizens, so there cannot be a separate one for farmers,” Singh explained.
Not agreed: Free electricity
In Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, farmers said that electricity bills ran as high as Rs 8 per unit. They said this made it very expensive to use tube wells. But their demand for free electricity was not accepted by the government. “They told us that electricity was a states’ issue and could not be discussed at the central level,” Singh said.