The Centre has invited Punjab farmers’ bodies protesting against the three farm sector laws passed by the National Democratic Alliance government for talks on November 13 in Delhi, PTI reported on Wednesday.

Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal) President Balbir Singh Rajewal confirmed that farmers’ organisations have received the invitation to talk to Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal.

A farmers’ leader said they have called a joint meeting of unions on Thursday to decide whether to participate in the dialogue and discuss a strategy for the talks if they accept the invite, according to The Times of India.

Krantikari Kisan Union chief Darshan Pal said the farm laws enacted by the Centre were the primary matters they wanted to discuss. Pal said that it would have been better if the government had sent the agenda of the meeting before making claims about it in the media. “We have requested the authorities to include names of remaining three farmer unions,” he added. The invite only names 29 farmers’ bodies, while 32 of them are protesting against the legislation concerned.

“There might be some confusion due to which names of three farmer unions are not there, but we are always ready for talks on farm laws,” said Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Dakaunda) chief Boota Singh Burjgil. Bharatiya Janata Party Punjab unit chief Ashwani Sharma welcomed the Centre’s decision.

On Monday, former Punjab minister Surjit Jyani had announced that Defence Minister Rajnath Singh would join the meeting along with Tomar and Goyal. However, the defence minister was not named in the invite. Last month, the farmers’ bodies had walked out of a meeting with the agriculture ministry, saying that the government was adopting double standards as no minister was present at the meeting to hear their problems.

Farm organisations are demanding the resumption of freight services as the state is in need of coal and fertiliser supplies. Further, foodgrains from Punjab also need to be moved to create space for storing paddy.

Train services in the state were initially cut off from September 24 when farmers began the “rail roko” agitation against the new farm laws. The agitating farmers had on November 4 had agreed to leave the Railways premises, but said that they would only allow for the movement of goods trains. The Railways, however, wants movement of passenger trains as well with complete security.

Protesting farmers have called the Centre’s farm legislation “black laws”. They fear that the laws would destroy their farming community and would only be beneficial for corporates.

The farm laws

The Parliament had passed 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 – in September. They were signed into laws by President Ram Nath Kovind on September 27.

Protests had erupted against the laws 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.

Taken together, the three legislations loosen regulations on the sale, pricing and storage of agricultural produce. They allow farmers to sell outside mandis notified by the Agricultural Produce Market Committee. They enable contract farming through deals with private sector companies. They take food items like cereals and pulses off the list of essential commodities, lifting stock limits on such produce.

The government claims the new laws would give farmers the freedom to sell in the open market. But farmers say the laws will weaken the minimum support price mechanism under which the government buys agricultural produce, leave farmers to the mercy of market forces and threaten food security.

Most Opposition parties and farmers’ organisations across the country have strongly opposed the bills. The Shiromani Akali Dal, one of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s oldest allies, pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance in protest against these bills.