Leaders of several farmers’ organisations from Punjab walked out of a meeting called by the Centre to discuss the contentious agricultural laws on Wednesday, the Hindustan Times reported. The meeting was held in Krishi Bhawan (Ministry of Agriculture in Delhi) with Union Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agarwal.
A seven-member team had been formed to hold talks with the Centre, according to Times Now. The members of the panel are Balbir Singh Rajewal, Darshan Pal, Jagjit Singh Dalewal, Jagmohan Singh, Kulwant Singh, Surjit Singh and Satnam Singh Sahni.
“The meeting was an effort to try and create a false impression that the central government is engaging with farmers, when in fact it is going all out to roll out and enforce the black anti-farmer laws,” the All-India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee said in a statement.
“First, the government should be ready to review and if necessary, repeal the three laws,” the All-India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee added. “Second, the government should be ready to consider legislating the minimum support price as a legal right and deal with input cost, food security and other issues.
Avik Saha, convenor of the AIKSCC, said the meeting with Agarwal “did not meet any of these criteria” as the secretary could not repeal, amend or enact new laws. “Rather his [Agarwal’s] job is to implement the laws made by the government so he is the wrong person for the right discussion,” Saha added. The delegation of protesting farmer leaders demanded the presence of Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar.
Balbir Singh Rajewal, the president of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Rajewal Group) told The New Indian Express, “We were earlier told that the minister will be present. We accepted the Centre’s invite for talks but were disappointed.”
The ministry issued a one-line statement on the meeting. It said the farmers’ delegation submitted a memorandum to agriculture secretary addressed to the Union agriculture minister that demanded repeal of the recent laws.
“We gave the secretary the memorandum in which we have demanded that the laws be repealed, minimum support price on all crops to be made a legal right for farmers and open-ended procurement be guaranteed,” said Rajewal. “Besides, the Centre should not go ahead with the proposed bill on electricity as it will further hit farmers’ interest. We will hold our meeting tomorrow [Thursday] in Chandigarh and decide further course of action. As of now, the protests will continue.”
Last week, several farmers’ bodies in Punjab rejected the agriculture department’s invitation for a meeting, saying they will not talk to anybody less than the Union agriculture minister as an “officer does not have to tell them if these laws are beneficial for farmers”.
The three ordinances – Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Ordinance 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Assurance and Farm Service Ordinance 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 – were passed in September.
Weeks later, protests against the laws continue to be staged in many parts of the country. When two of the legislations were tabled during a chaotic session in Parliament on September 20, some Opposition MPs claimed that they would prove to be the “death warrant” for the agricultural sector. President Ram Nath Kovind gave assent to the bills on September 27, after which they became laws.
Critics say that these new agricultural policies will lead to farmers losing out on guaranteed purchase prices for their crops, to the benefit of large corporations. However, the government has repeatedly reiterated that the mechanism of procuring the produce of farmers at a guaranteed minimum rate would continue.