Thousands of farmers in Haryana and Punjab on Sunday came out on roads to protest against the contentious agriculture bills, The Hindu reported. The bills have already been cleared in the Lok Sabha, and two of them were passed in Rajya Sabha during the day, amid massive uproar from the Opposition.
Protesting farmers blocked several roads, including state and national highways, at different points across Haryana on Sunday in response to a call for statewide bandh by Bharatiya Kisan Union. Additional Director-General of Police Navdeep Virk told the newspaper that there were reports of road blockades at several points, but it was “absolutely” peaceful.
“Not a single incident of violence reported so far,” he added. “Mostly the state highways and the internal roads have been blocked, but in some cases the national highways were also affected.”
However, protests turned violent near the border between Punjab and Haryana, after members of the Punjab Youth Congress attempted to break barricades erected on the Ambala-Mohali highway, according to NDTV. The police reportedly resorted to use of force and water cannons in an attempt to disperse them.
Bharatiya Kisan Union state president Gurnam Singh Charuni, who led the protest in Haryana’s Yamunanagar, claimed that protests were being held at 10 to 12 points in each district.
Charuni said some of the demands of the protestors include a law to guarantee Minimum Support Price to the farmers, waiving of all taxes imposed under the Agricultural Produce Market Committee on farmers and waiving of farmers’ loans worth Rs 7 lakh crore.
“When the government can write off Rs 15 lakh crore corporate loan, why can’t they waive off farmers debt which is less than half of it,” he asked. “Thousands of farmers committed suicide last year, does the government want more farmers to die this year?”
The farmers’ leader accused the state government of using police force and registering false cases against them, but added that all these attempts have come to naught. “I want to assure the farmers of the state that the agitation will continue till the central government withdraws its ordinances...The government cannot suppress the voice of the farmers,” Charuni told the Hindustan Times.
In Kurukshetra, district farmers blocked national and state highways at Ladwa, Kurukshetra and Shahbad towns. Similar protests were also witnessed in Karnal, Yamunanagar and Kaithal districts. The Faridabad unit of the Bharatiya Kisan Unit, however, did not block any roads in the state. The group submitted a memorandum to Palwal Deputy Commissioner in support of their demands after a peaceful protest at Devi Lal park on Sunday morning.
Over the last few weeks, farmers – largely in the states of Haryana and Punjab – have been protesting the three agriculture ordinances.
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 allows 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 (Amendment) 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 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 claim that once the prevailing hegemony of the APMC collapses, private entities will dictate the price. They fear that in the name of reforms, the government is also planning to dismantle the Minimum Support Price regime.
Protests in the state are also being backed by opposition parties like the Indian National Lok Dal and the Congress. On Sunday, many opposition leaders were seen at the protest sites. Ram Karan Kala, Shahabad MLA of Jannayak Janata Party, which is part of the ruling alliance with the BJP, was seen among the protesting farmers. “I have come here to extend my support to the farmers and will take up their concern with the government,” he said, according to the Hindustan Times.