Thousands of farmers on Monday left for Delhi from Nashik in Maharashtra to join the ongoing protests against the three new agricultural laws, reported PTI. They are expected to reach the Capital on December 24 through the Mumbai-Agra national highway.
The protests at Delhi’s borders – Singhu, Tikri, UP Gate, and Chilla – entered its 27th day on Tuesday.
Leaders of the Kisan Sabha are leading the farmers’ protest from Maharashtra. Before proceeding to Delhi on Monday afternoon, the protestors burnt effigies of central political leaders. A Kisan Sabha leader said farmers from 21 districts in the state were making their way to Delhi.
The demonstrators will travel in around 250 vehicles, covering 1,266 km across states, including Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha leaders Ashok Dhawale and Ajit Navale on Monday criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh over the new legislations. They claimed that the new laws were enacted with the only purpose of benefiting a few corporate entities at the expense of the farmers’ wellbeing.
Navale said their protests were an attempt to show the support of Maharashtra farmers. “And we will not come back till we achieve our aim of repealing these anti-farmer laws,” he added, according to the Hindustan Times. He also said that they were taking all precautions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Farmers in Maharashtra have been demanding a waiver on the inflated power bills and called for the implementation of the recommendations of the MS Swaminathan Committee. Among other demands, they want financial assistance of Rs 50,000 crore per acre for farmers whose crops were damaged due to unseasonal rain.
Meanwhile, farmers protesting at Delhi’s borders will meet on Tuesday to discuss the Centre’s latest offer for dialogue. However, Bhartiya Kisan Union spokesperson Rakesh Tikait said his association has not received any invitation to meet from Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar yet.
On Sunday, the agriculture ministry asked protestors to specify their concerns over its draft proposal of amendments to the three new laws, and settle on a convenient date for the meeting. The Centre had on December 9 proposed to make amendments related to at least seven matters, and provide a “written assurance” on the continuation of the minimum support price. Several rounds of talks have failed to break the impasse on the protests.
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.