The Centre has claimed it has no record of farmers who died during the eight-month-long protest against the three new agricultural laws at Delhi’s borders, even though the Punjab government has confirmed more than 200 deaths, The Indian Express reported on Saturday.

Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, have camped outside Delhi since November, braving the cold, heat and rain, firm on their demand that the central government repeal the three laws that open up the country’s agriculture markets to private companies.

They are now also protesting at Jantar Mantar, organising a “kisan sansad” or farmers’ parliament, parallel to the proceedings at the Monsoon Session in the Indian Parliament.

During Friday’s Parliament session, MPs asked the Centre about the deaths of farmers during these protests, according to PTI. In response, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said: “The Government of India has no such record.”

However, Punjab verified 220 deaths of farmers and farm labourers till July 20, according to data accessed by The Indian Express. The state government has provided Rs 10.86 crore as compensation to their families. The Punjab government is confirming more deaths.

According to the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella of over 40 farmers’ unions and associations, 400 farmers have died during the protest, The Indian Express reported.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha said the Centre should take data from them. “The government could have deputed some agency to gather the data but all they want is to misguide people,” farmer leader Darshan Pal told The Wire. “Moreover, what can be expected from a government which blatantly said in the Parliament that no death took place due to the lack of oxygen, whereas people died gasping for breath in the Covid-19 second wave?”

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Meanwhile, the relatives of farmers said the government didn’t want to acknowledge their sacrifices and protest, The Wire reported.

“The government knows everything,” Dalwinder Singh, who lost his uncle during the protest, told the news website. “If a celebrity dies or a birth takes place at a rich person’s house, the same leaders are the first ones to ensure their presence. But when it comes to farmers, they simply ignore us. We have no hope at all from such a heartless government.”

Gurmit Singh from Punjab’s Sri Muktsar Sahib district, whose 23-year-old son died in an accident on January 26 while returning from Tikri border, also expressed anger at the Union minister’s remark.

“Shame on such a government,” he told The Wire. “They know very well that how many farmers have died but they want to harass us mentally. I lost my only support in my old age. I am devastated. The only tribute to my son’s sacrifice would be repeal of the three farm laws. My son died for the sake of farmers.”

Farmer-Centre talks

The farmers fear the central government’s new laws will make them vulnerable to corporate exploitation and would dismantle the minimum support price regime. The government, however, continues to claim that the three legislations are pro-farmer.

In January, nearly two months into the protest movement, the Supreme Court suspended the implementation of the farm laws. It instead set up a committee and tasked it to consult stakeholders and assess the impact of the laws.

Talks between farmers groups and the central government to resolve the protests came to a complete deadlock after farmers rejected the Centre’s offer to suspend the laws for two years. The last time both sides met was on January 22. Since then, most farmer leaders have said they were willing to speak to the government again.