The Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), the biggest independent organisation behind the farmers’ protests, has been asked by a central agency to submit its registration details that allow it to receive foreign funds, reported the Hindustan Times on Monday. On December 6, the association had made a public appeal for financial help to go ahead with the protests.

“A department under the Centre has sent an email which we received through our bank’s branch in Punjab,” General Secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan said, according to PTI. “In the email, it was stated that we should give registration details in respect of these donations from abroad otherwise they will be sent back. The bank manager showed me the email which has been sent by the Forex Department.”

The BKU leadership said it has received about Rs 8 lakh in the last two months, but the donations from Indians and the diaspora had not been calculated separately. The union has been accepting donations in the personal bank account of Kokrikalan, according to Hindustan Times.

However, he confirmed that his account was not registered as per the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, adding that the forex department of Punjab and Sindh Bank received the notice on the foreign funds. The last date to get the registration done for the bank account was Saturday.

The farmers’ union criticised the Centre’s action, and said they were being targeted. “BKU is being targeted by the central authorities for evoking a massive response from Indians and NRIs,” the group’s President Joginder Singh Ugrahan. “What wrong is there if our supporters working as truck drivers or pursuing other labour works send donations from overseas?”

Kokrikalan questioned the timing of the Centre’s concerns on foreign funding, saying that the administration was “using all tactics as their sole purpose is to defeat the agitation”. He added that the farmers’ group would submit a reply after consultation.

Ugrahan said the income tax department first conducted raids on “arhtiyas [commission agents]” as they supported the farmers’ protests, and now their organisation, reported PTI. “They are asking details about NRI funds,” he said. “The NRIs from Punjab help us with donations from their hard-earned money. They are supporting our agitation, what is the problem in that? Back home too, people support us.”

The protests at Delhi’s borders – Singhu, Tikri, UP Gate, and Chilla – entered its 26th day on Monday. Protesting farmers will begin a day-long relay hunger strike from Monday to step up pressure on the Centre to revoke the three new farm laws. Swaraj India chief Yogendra Yadav said that at least 11 people will sit on the hunger strike at the same time, and urged farmers protesting in other states to join them.

On Sunday, the agriculture ministry wrote a letter to 40 unions, asking them to specify their concerns over its earlier proposal of amendments to the new farm laws and select a date convenient for the next round of discussions. On December 9, the Centre had proposed to make amendments related to at least seven matters, and provide a “written assurance” on the continuation of the minimum support price.

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What are the three farm laws?

The Parliament 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.

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.

Farmers and traders have alleged that the government wants to discontinue the minimum support price regime in the name of reforms. They fear that the laws will leave them at the mercy of corporate powers. The government has maintained that farm laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture.

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. Opposition parties have also urged President Ram Nath Kovind to ask the government to accept farmers’ demands.