Farmers’ protest: SC proposes forming committee, but groups adamant on rollback; Sikh priest dies by suicide over farm laws

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The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 40 protesting farmer unions, rejected the Centre’s proposal for amendments in the agri laws in a letter and asked the Centre to stop holding ‘parallel talks’ with other farmers’ bodies

As the farmers protest against the Centre’s contentious farm laws continued for the 21st day on Wednesday, a Sikh preacher supporting their agitation allegedly died by suicide near the the Kundli border in Delhi.

An official of the Sonipat police said they had received a call that Sant Ram Singh (65), who hailed from Karnal, allegedly shot himself. The deceased was rushed to a hospital in Panipat where doctors declared him brought dead.

The official said the exact spot where the incident took place is being verified and police are in the process of recording statements of the deceased’s family members.

“I feel the pain of farmers fighting to ensure their rights… I share their pain because the government is not doing justice to them. To inflict injustice is a sin, but it is also a sin to tolerate injustice. To support farmers, some have returned their awards to the government. I have decided to sacrifice myself,” an NDTV report quoted a portion of the letter, translated from Punjabi, as saying.

The note is being verified by police, reported news agency PTI.

Shiromani Akali Dal leader and former Union Cabinet Minister of Food Processing in the NDA govt, Harsimrat Kaur Badal shared an image of the Sikh priest as well as a copy of the note in Punjabi.

“Hope the Centre wakes up to the tragedy and repeals the three agri laws before it is too late,” she said.

SAD spokesperson and Delhi Sikh Gurudwara Management Committee president Manjinder Singh Sirsa expressed grief over the incident and urged farmers to exercise restraint.

“A very sad news has been received that Sant Ram Singh, who dedicated his life to the service of humanity, died by suicide by shooting himself,” he said on his Twitter handle.

“It is a very grave time. I request you as the chief sewadar of the DSGMC to exercise restraint because anybody can do mischief in the farmers’ agitation. It is a very sad incident for all of us but we need to be restrained,” said Sirsa.

Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court proposed to form a committee consisting of government representatives and farmers’ organisations to break the deadlock over the farm laws, observing that the Centre’s negotiations appear to have failed to deliver results.

The court’s comments came on a day when the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (also spelled as Sanyukta Kisan Morcha), an umbrella body of 39 protesting farmer unions, rejected the Centre’s proposal for amendments to the three laws enacted in September in writing, said reports.

The Centre had last week sent a draft proposal to 13 farm union leaders containing seven amendments in the two new laws — The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020.

The proposal had not touched the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 and had steered clear of mentioning the repeal of the three laws, which is the agitating farmer’s main demand.

Traffci remain affected along the border on Wednesday. In the National Capital, one side of the Delhi-Noida route via the Chilla border was closed for commuters on Wednesday in light of the protests and the traffic police later in the day said that the Tikri and Dhansa border were also closed for traffic movement.

The Chilla route had remained obstructed since 1 December when the protest began over there. One side of the road (Noida to Delhi) had remained closed during a large part of the period until 12 December, when protesters agreed to open it for the sake of commuters but stayed put at the border.

However, a disagreement cropped up between splinter groups of farmer unions who opposed the move that led to a brief closure of the road on Tuesday as well, according to a BKU (Bhanu) protester. The Bhanu group was reportedly removed from the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (also spelled as Sanyukta Kisan Morcha) on 13 December.

The protesters who have gathered at the Noida border want to proceed to Delhi to join the bigger stir called by farmers from Punjab and Haryana.

Thousands of farmers are currently staying put at Delhi’s borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in protest against the three farm laws. They have expressed apprehension that these laws would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the “mercy” of big corporations.

However, the government has maintained that the new laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture.

Protests may soon become national issue: SC

The apex court on Wednesday, while listening petitions seeking removal of farmers camping at the borders of Delhi in protest against the agri laws, told Solicitor General Tushar Mehta the Central Government-led negotiations “have not worked apparently” and if the dispute is not settled soon, it may become a national issue.

Mehta sought to assure that the “government will not do anything which is against the interest of farmers”, however, added that the farmers had a yes or no approach, where they demanded the Acts be repealed or they would not talk.

“They had come with placards of yes or no during the talks. Ministers were talking with them and they wanted to discuss the issue with farmers but they (leaders of farmer organisations) turned their chairs and showed their back with placards of yes or no,” the SG said.

When the apex court asked Mehta, who was representing the Centre to give names of the farmer organisations, which are blocking the roads on Delhi borders, he said he can give the names of those with whom Government is holding discussions.

“There are members of Bharatiya Kisan Union and other organisations who are talking to the government,” Mehta said adding that government is talking with the protesting farmer organisations and he can give those names to the court.

He also said “now, it appears that others have taken over the farmers protest”.

Advocate Om Prakash Parihar, who appeared for one of the petitioners, said that the blockades at the Delhi borders are causing inconvenience to the public and referred to an SC rder in the Shaheen Bagh matter which said that public spaces cannot be occupied indefinitely.

The court responded by stating that there cannot be any precedent in a matter of law and order situation and it cannot pass orders without hearing all the parties.

The bench told Mehta that most of these petitions before it appears to be ill-conceived, adding, “We don’t see any legal issue being raised before us in these petitions except that freedom of movement in the territory of India is blocked, which is caused by the people who are not before us.”

It said that the only person before the court has blocked the roads is the government authorities.

The apex court issued notices to the Centre and others directed the petitioners to make protesting farmer unions parties to the pleas and posted the matter for hearing on Thursday.

The bench also told the advocates appearing for different parties as to what it tentatively proposes to do.

“We will form a committee to resolve the dispute. We will have members of the government, members from farmer organisations in it. This may soon become a national issue. We will have members from farmer organisations from rest of India also. You propose a list of names of committee members,” said the bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

Among the farmers’ unions who have been issued notices are: Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU-Rakesh Tikait), BKU-Sidhupur (Jagjeet S Dallewal), BKU-Rajewal (Balbeer Singh Rajewal), BKU-Lakhowal (Harinder Singh Lakhowal), Jamhoori Kisan Sabha (Kulwant Singh Sandhu), BKU Dakaunda (Buta Singh Burjgill), BKU-Doaba (Manjit Singh Rai) and Kul Hind Kisan Federation (Prem Singh Bhangu).

‘Forming new panel not a solution’

The protesting farmers’ unions also said Wednesday that the formation of a new panel to end the logjam was not a solution as they had already rejected the Centre’s offer to set up a similar committee.

Some farmers leaders also said that the government should have consulted the farmers before the laws were passed by the Parliament.

“Setting up a new committee by the court is not a solution. We just want complete repeal of the three agriculture laws. Earlier, there have been several rounds of talks between a group of Central ministers and farmers’ unions, which was like a committee itself,” Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sabha leader Abhimanyu Kohar told PTI.

Taking to Twitter, Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav, who is also a member ‘Sankyukt Kisan Morcha’, said, “The SC can and must decide on the constitutionality of the three farm acts. But it is not for the judiciary to decide on the feasibility and desirability of these laws. That’s between the farmers and their elected leaders. SC monitored negotiation would be a wrong path.”

In another tweet, he said, “This amounts to resurrecting a proposal made by the government on 1 December which farmers organisations had rejected unanimously.”

Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), also not named in the notice, which has been leading the agitation at Tikri Border, said it would become part of a new committee only if the three laws are rolled back.

“We will be in the new committee only after the government first repeals the three laws. The government should have formed a committee of farmers and others before enacting the new agriculture laws. There will be no meaning of new committee at this stage,” BKU Ekta Ugrahan’s Punjab general secretary Sukhdev Singh said.

However, Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait said, “We have only seen media reports about the SC order as of now. We want to first see an authentic copy of the order and then see what the government has to say. Only then can we comment on this.”

Political row continues

Meanwhile, the political row over the farmers’ agitation continued, with Union ministers and BJP leaders accusing the Opposition of misleading the farmers and Opposition parties extending support to the farmers.

Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, at an event in Gwalior under the BJP’s campaign to educate farmers on the farm laws, claimed farmers in the entire country are supporting the three agri laws and alleged that cultivators from Punjab are being “misled” into protest by Opposition.

“There are mostly small farmers in the country and recently the government allocated Rs 1.5 lakh crore under the head ‘farmers’ infrastructure’ so that they can do world class farming, and to achieve this purpose, it was necessary to change the old agri laws,” the Union minister while claiming that the new laws will not only change the face of agriculture, but also of the country.

Tomar said the government was open for talks with agriculturists 24 hours, but the Congress and Leftist parties are bent on maligning the image of the Narendra Modi government.

At a virtual conference organised by industry body Assocham later in the day, Tomar termed the protest at Delhi borders as an “exception” and said it is “limited to one state”.

Addressing the meeting, Rajya Sabha MP Jyotiraditya Scindia said the Modi government introduced new farm laws to make farmers “aatmanirbhar” (self-reliant).

He also claimed that the Congress in its poll manifesto had promised to change the agriculture laws when Sharad Pawar was Union agriculture minister and alleged that they have changed tune when in Opposition.

“People and farmers of the country will give them a befitting reply on the issue,” he said.

Union minister Dharmendra Pradhan, meanwhile, alleged that an anti-Indian and feudalistic force was behind the ongoing farmers’ agitation.

At a divisional farmers’ convention organised by the BJP in Indore, Pradhan asked why the agitation was continuing when Tomar had agreed to give a written guarantee that the MSP system will continue.

He alleged that the agitation is being instigated to build an atmosphere against the prime minister and to create chaos in the country.

Union minister Hardeep Singh Puri appealed to protesting farmers to resume talks with the Central Government to discuss their genuine demands, saying this is not the time to remain adamant.

Vice President Venakaiah Naidu referred to media reports on the demands of the agitating farmers and the response of the representatives of the Centre, saying he sees the possibility of a “certain meeting ground”.

He expected both the sides to crystalise the meeting point based on an understanding of each other’s position and expressed the hope that they would have a fruitful and meaningful dialogue, a statement said.

However, AAP leader and delhi development minister Gopal Rai said the Centre should give up its “ego” and “stubbornness” and accept the demands of farmers.

The farmers are protesting against the three farm laws passed recently by the Central government, even as they face hardships and the cold weather during their demonstrations, Rai said.

He described their protest as “unfortunate”, saying farmers are the ones who feed the nation.

In Kolkata, farmers wings of several Left parties took to the streets demanding that the Centre and the West Bengal government ensure that agriculturists get fair price for their produce.

They also demanded immediate repeal of the three farm bills passed by the Centre and expressed solidarity with agitating farmers of North India. The police, however, stopped the rally at Rani Rashmoni Road which is not far from Raj Bhavan.

Stop defaming farmers, Samyukta Kisan Morcha tells Centre

Earlier on Wednesday, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (also spelled as Sanyukta Kisan Morcha), in a letter to Union Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Joint Secretary Vivek Aggarwal, said the Centre should also stop “defaming” the ongoing protests and not hold parallel talks with other unions.

In the letter, Morcha member Darshan Pal also recorded in writing the farmer unions’ decision to reject a recent government proposal of amendments in the new laws.

“In reference to the proposal (dated 9 December) and your (Agarwal) letter, we want to inform the government that farmer organisations held a joint meeting to discuss the proposal on the same day and rejected it,” he said.

“We had already made our stand clear in previous talks (with the government) that’s why we did not send a written reply earlier,” Pal said.

In wake of the agitation at Delhi’s Chilla border, one side of the Delhi-Noida Link Road was closed for commuters on Wednesday amid heavy police deployment, officials said. Barricades were set up on the road, prohibiting vehicular movement from Noida to Delhi, while the other side (Delhi to Noida) was open, Noida Traffic Police officials said.

Traffic was also diverted from the Dalit Prerna Sthal, another site of the farmers’ protests, to the Delhi-Noida-Direct (DND) flyway in the wake of the situation at the Chilla border, an official said. “The route was closed around 11 am. The DND and the Kalindi Kunj routes are operational and commuters are advised to take these routes for travelling to and fro Delhi,” the official said.

Farmers, chiefly belonging to the Bharatiya Kisan Union’s Bhanu and Lok Shakti factions, are staging demonstrations at the Chilla border and the Dalit Prerna Sthal, respectively, to protest the three new farm laws brought by the Centre.

With inputs from PTI

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