The Centre has no record on the number of farmers who died during protests against the three farm laws, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar told the Parliament on Tuesday.

In response to a series of questions related to the farmers’ protest, Tomar said that due to lack of records “question does not arise” on providing compensation to the families of those who died during the agitation.

The Union government does not have records on the number of cases registered against farmers either, Tomar said in his reply.

The Centre’s response could prove to be a new flashpoint in its tussle with the farmers’ unions.

Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the decision to repeal the three farm laws last month, farmer associations have insisted that protestors would return to their homes only after all their demands are met. Compensation for families of the farmers who died and withdrawal of cases against protestors are among their demands.

In a press note released after Modi made the announcement on November 19, umbrella body of farmers’ unions, Samyukta Kisan Morcha, had said that “nearly 700” protestors had died during the agitation.

During the Monsoon Session of the Parliament held between July and August too, the Centre had said that it did not have records on death of farmers at protest sites. However, data from the Punjab government accessed by The Indian Express had confirmed that 220 farmers and farm labourers had died till July 20.

On Tuesday, Jagmohan Singh Patiala, general secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda) told The Indian Express that the government has given verbal assurance to the farmers’ bodies that letters had been sent to all state governments, asking them to withdraw cases lodged against protestors against the farm laws.

However, there is no official confirmation yet on this development.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge criticised the government’s response. He described the the Centre’s reply as an insult to the 700 farmers who lost their lives while protesting against the farm laws, ANI reported.

“How can Centre say that they don’t have any record of it?” Kharge said. “If the government does not have a record of 700 people, then how they had collected data of lakhs of people during pandemic. Over 50 lakh people lost their lives due to Covid-19 in the last two years but according to the government, only four lakh people died due to the virus.”

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of several farmers’ organisations, in a statement condemned the government’s response. The farmers’ body restated its demand for the compensation and rehabilitation of the families of the farmers, who died during the agitation.

“[The] BJP government should stop attempting to divide farmers even at this stage – Farmers’ unions stand united and Modi government should stop its continued divisive agenda,” it said.