Farmers’ unions protesting the new agricultural legislations on Monday asserted that they had the constitutional right to demonstrate peacefully on Republic Day, and reiterated that they would go ahead with the proposed tractor rally on January 26, reported PTI.
“We are stuck at the Delhi borders,” said Bhartiya Kisan Union (Lakhowal) Punjab General Secretary Paramjit Singh. “We have not decided to sit at these borders ourselves, we have been stopped from entering Delhi. We will take out the rally peacefully without disrupting any law and order. We will exercise our constitutional right and we will definitely enter Delhi.”
The declaration came hours after the Supreme Court told the Centre that the proposed tractor rally by farmers was a matter of law and order, and the Delhi Police is the first authority to decide who should be allowed to enter the national Capital. “We are not going to tell you what to do,” a bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde said, adding that police has all the authority to deal with the matter.
The court was hearing the Centre’s application seeking an injunction against tractor or trolley march or any other kind of protest, which “seeks to disrupt” the gathering and celebrations of Republic Day. The government had cited the historical and constitutional significance of January 26, and argued that any disruptions on the day would cause national embarrassment.
Farmers, however, vowed that their protests would be nothing but peaceful. “Farmers are not going to hold their rally on Rajpath and in other high-security areas,” Singh told PTI. “They would only take it out on the Outer Ring Road in Delhi and that there will be no disruption in the official Republic Day parade.”
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Another farmer leader Lakhbir Singh, who is vice president of All India Kisan Sabha (Punjab), said that farmers will return to their protest sites on the outskirts of Delhi after the tractor rally. “We will not go to any place where there might be a government gathering, and all our tractors will have a national flag and the flags of our farmer unions,” Lakhbir Singh added.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) President Joginder Singh Ugrahan said the farmers were even willing to work out their routes for the march with the Delhi Police. But, there was no question of calling off the tractor rally, he added.
“If the Delhi Police has some issues over law and order on Republic Day, they can sit with Sanyukt Kisan Morcha and tell about alternatives routes for the tractor rally,” Ugrahan said. “Thereafter, our farmers’ committee will decide the same.”
Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of the Delhi for more than a month, with at nine rounds of talks between the government and farmers’ groups unable to break the deadlock. The next round of talks are scheduled for January 19.
The farmers believe that the new laws undermine their livelihood and open the path to the corporatisation of the agricultural sector. The government, on the other hand, maintains that the new laws will give farmers more options in selling their produce, lead to better pricing, and free them from unfair monopolies.
On January 12, The Supreme Court suspended the implementation of the market-oriented laws until a committee of experts, appointed by the court, could consult with government officials and protesting farmers to find an end to the deadlock. However, all four members tasked with providing expert opinion to the court on the future of the laws have in the past publicly spoken in support of the reforms.
Agricultural economists Ashok Gulati, Pramod Kumar Joshi, Shetkari Sanghatana member Anil Ghanwat along with Bhartiya Kisan Union National President Bhupinder Singh Mann were named in the court-appointed panel. Mann later recused himself from the committee saying that he would always stand with the farmers and Punjab.