Punjab agriculturalist Dr Varinder Pal Singh on Monday refused to accept an award from the Centre as a gesture of support to farmers protesting against the government’s agricultural laws.

Singh, the principal soil chemist at the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana, was recognised by the Fertiliser Association of India for his work in the field of plant nutrition. At an event in Delhi on Monday, he was supposed to receive the award from Union Chemicals and Fertilisers Minister DV Sadananda Gowda. But he refused to accept the award saying that his conscience would not allow it at a time of crisis when “our farmers are on the roads”.

“I wish that we shall work together for the nation and the government shall listen to our dear farmers,” Singh said. “The work I did is only for the farmers and our nation, so I feel I would be guilty if at this moment I receive this award.” Though he was repeatedly urged to accept the award since the minister was standing on the stage, Singh refused.

“My conscious [conscience] does not allow me to receive this award from any government official, because of unnecessary pains given by the GOI [government of India] to the peacefully protesting Indian farmers (sic),” Singh wrote in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday.

In a separate letter addressed to Sadananda Gowda, Singh said that receiving the award “for the sake of professional benefit would be a betrayal” to the farmers and the country.

In his letter to the prime minister, Singh lauded the farmers for remaining “disciplined and peaceful” during their protests and criticised the media for its coverage of the protests.

“It is highly heartbroken [heartbreaking] that national media is rating the Ann Datta [food provider] or his supporters as terrorists,” he wrote. He added that the new agricultural laws were “anti-social, anti-farmer and dangerous for socio-economic structure of India” and urged the prime minister to withdraw them.

Several eminent personalities have returned their awards over the last few days to register their solidarity with the farmers. Former Punjab Chief Minister and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Parkash Singh Badal returned his Padma Vibhushan, the second-highest civilian award in India, last week. Olympic medalist boxer Vijender Singh has said that he would return the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, the country’s highest sporting honour.

The farm law protests

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.

Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have camped out at the entrance to Delhi for over ten days, demanding the government should abolish the new legislations. They fear the new policies could pave the way for the government to stop buying grains at guaranteed prices, leaving them at the mercy of big corporations.

The Centre, which claims the laws would revitalise India’s agrarian economy by boosting produce, has made several attempts to placate the farmers. But five rounds of talks have failed to break the impasse so far. The agitation continues and another round of negotiations is scheduled for December 9.