Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait and 12 others were booked on Sunday for allegedly violating prohibitory orders and holding a “mahapanchayat” in Haryana’s Ambala district, reported PTI, citing police officials.

On Saturday, the farm union leaders addressed the “kisan mazdoor mahapanchayat” in Dhurali village, violating the order against the assembly of four or more people under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The orders were put in place amid the massive surge of Covid-19 infections across the country.

Among the other farmers leaders who have been charged are Ratan Maan Singh, Baldev Singh and Jasmer Saini.

The Haryana Police said that Assistant Sub-Inspector Chandi Singh had cautioned the Bhartiya Kisan Union leaders not to hold the “maha panchayat” as prohibitory orders were in effect. “However, BKU leaders went ahead and organised the event,” a senior police official told PTI. After this, a case was registered.

“They violated the orders under Section 144 as well as the orders duly promulgated by the public servant [district magistrate] under Section 188 of the IPC,” the police officer said. “The other provisions of IPC added in the FIR [first information report] include Section 269 [negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life] and 270 [malignant act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life].”

During the mahapanchayat on Saturday, Tikait had asserted that the farmers’ movement would continue till the Centre’s new agriculture laws were repealed. Tikait is the national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union.

Tikait also criticised the Centre for its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, reported PTI. He said that many hospitals across the country were tackling the severe shortage of medical oxygen.

Later on Saturday, Tikait told reporters that the protesting farmers were told to take all the measures to protect themselves against Covid-19.

Farm laws

Thousands of farmers have camped outside Delhi since November, demanding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeal the three laws that open up the country’s agriculture markets to private companies. Farmers fear the policies will make them vulnerable to corporate exploitation and would dismantle the minimum support price regime.

The farmers have hunkered down with supplies that they say will last them for months, and have resolved to not leave until their demands are met. In January, the Supreme Court had suspended the implementation of the farm laws until further orders.

On April 19, the Supreme Court asked the farmer leaders to think about whether they should continue to obstruct roads for their protest. The court also urged them to consider if they were interfering with the rights of residents to commute freely on public roads.