Farmers in Punjab on Thursday announced they will stage a three-day rail roko agitation from September 24 to September 26, to protest against three agriculture ordinances of the Central government, PTI reported. The call for the demonstration was given by the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh.

“We have decided to hold a rail roko agitation from September 24 to 26 in the state against the farm bills,” Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee General Secretary Sarwan Singh Pandher told the news agency.

Other farmers organisations in Punjab have already given a call for a bandh on September 25 in protest against the bills. The state has been witnessing protests organised by various farmers bodies throughout the week. Demonstrations were also held on Monday across Uttar Pradesh and Telangana.

In Haryana, the members of the Bharatiya Kisan Union blocked the national highway-44 on September 10, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the agriculture ordinances. Protestors were also baton charged in Pipli near Haryana’s Kurukshetra, for defying the administration’s warnings during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Centre had introduced the three contentious bills – the Farmers’ Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Bill, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill – in Parliament on Monday. The first two bills were passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday. The third one was passed on Tuesday.

The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance allows inter-state and intra-state trade of farmers’ produce outside mandis. The Ordinance essentially aims to end the monopoly of the Agricultural Produce Market Committees and allow anyone to buy and sell agricultural produce. Meanwhile, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance allows farmers to sell their agricultural produce to private players.

Under the Essential Commodities Bill, which was amended in June, essential food commodities such as cereals, pulses, edible oil and sugar will be deregulated. This means there would be no storage limit or movement restriction of the specified commodities.

The government claims the ordinances are aimed at making farming more profitable, but the farmers argue that they will bring about corporate dominance. Farmers’ unions have said the legislations were “corporate agriculture bills” that were framed to suit “big corporates who seek to dominate the Indian food and agriculture business”. They fear that in the name of reforms, the government is also planning to dismantle the Minimum Support Price regime.

Political controversy

The Bills are at the centre of a political tussle between the central and state governments. Agriculture and markets are state subjects, so the ordinances appear to encroach on state functions. Opposition parties including, the Congress, Trinamool Congress, have vehemently opposed the ordinances and accused the Centre of “destroying the federal structure” by bringing the Bills in Parliament.

During the Parliament proceedings on Thursday, Shiromani Akali Dal MP Harsimrat Kaur resigned from the Narendra Modi Cabinet, after publicly criticising the farmers policy of the government. The announcement was made in the Lok Sabha by Shiromani Akali Dal President and her husband Sukhbir Singh Badal as he opposed two of the agriculture ordinances in the House.

The party, however, will continue to support the government from the outside. Shiromani Akali Dal from Punjab is the oldest ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which is in power at the Centre.

Harsimrat Kaur Badal said that she resigned to show support to the protesting farmers. Thousands of farmers are on the streets,” she said. “I did not want to be part of the government that got the bills passed in the House without addressing the apprehensions of farmers.” President Ram Nath Kovind accepted her resignation on Friday.