The representatives of farmers’ unions from Punjab on Friday met Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar after being invited for talks, The Tribune reported. They put forth five demands before the ministers, including withdrawal of the three farm laws and revocation of punishment for burning agricultural waste.
The other demands made by the farmers were restoration of train services to Punjab, quashing of cases related to stubble burning and rolling back amendments to the Electricity Bill, according to NDTV. The changes could end power subsidies given to the farmers, The Hindu reported.
The farmers’ unions told Goyal that they had vacated train tracks and accused the Centre of creating economic blockades for Punjab, according to The Tribune.
Rajinder Singh Deepsinghwala from the Krantikari Kisan Union told the newspaper that thousands of farmers from Punjab will protest against the Centre’s laws in Delhi on November 26 and 27.
Stubble burning has been frequently blamed for the deteriorating air quality in Delhi and its neighbouring states. Violating laws to combat pollution is now punishable with up to five years in jail and a fine of Rs 1 crore.
Train services in Punjab 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.
Punjab Industries and Commerce Minister Sunder Sham Arora had told PTI earlier this week that industries in the state have suffered losses to the tune of Rs 22,000 crore because of the suspension of goods train services.
The Punjab government has been firmly opposing the Centre’s farm laws. Earlier this month, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh took his protest against the laws to Jantar Mantar in Delhi. He was joined by Congress MLAs from Punjab, state ministers, Punjabi Ekta Party MLA Sukhpal Khaira, Lok Insaf Party legislator Simranjit Singh Bains and Shiromani Akali Dal (Democratic) MLA Parminder Singh Dhindsa.
The three 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.