Leaders of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the farmers’ collective protesting three recent agriculture laws, said on Friday that they would intensify their agitation if the government did not accede to their demands during the next round of talks.
The leaders said they had prepared their agitation schedule, which would be activated depending on how the talks would go on January 4.
Taking to reporters, the leaders said the two demands agreed to by the Centre were “minor”, while the major issues were yet to be resolved. “Abhi tak poonch nikli hai, haathi baki hai (Only a small part has been resolved. The big issues remain),” Yogendra Yadav, one of the leaders, said.
“I don’t believe in this statement (by the government) that 50% of the issues have been resolved. The fact is the government hasn’t showed any willingness to repeal the laws and has also not agreed in principle for a law on minimum support prices,” Yadav said.
“If the talks do not progress on January 4, then the farmers will start marching from their designated camps on January 6, including the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway,” he said.
The boycott of goods and services of certain industrial groups, including fuel stations and shopping malls run by them, would continue, said Darshan Pal, a senior leader of the farmers’ agitation. Pal said all toll gates would be picketed on major highways to allow vehicles to pass freely as part of the protests.
The farm leaders also said they would hold a tractor rally on January 6 if the laws are not repealed.
“It seems the government is taking farmers lightly…If the government does not make a decision on January 4 then farmers will have to take a decision,” said Yudhvir Singh of Bhartiya Kisan Union.
The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a platform of protesting farmer unions, on Friday blamed Niti Aayog assessments of India being a food-surplus country and government economists who use this to argue against procurement of farm produce.
“They (Niti Aayog) need to know that India has the maximum and rising number of hungry people,” said Avik Saha, secretary of the AIKSCC.
India slipped on a global ranking of the prevailing hunger situation this year. While a Global Hunger Index score of below 34.9 indicates acute hunger crises, India’s score has fallen from 38.8 in 2000 to 27.2 in 2020. In 2019, the score was 30.3.
“This is the result of complete government apathy and the recent decision of the Cabinet to divert foodgrains for alcohol production by companies is proof of this apathy towards the poor. This is despite claims of more than required production of food,” the AIKSCC said.
Repeating its demand to repeal the new laws, the AIKSCC said: “The Acts will erode food procurement and undermine the public distribution system, will replace basic food production by commercial crops profitable to the corporate and will give freedom to the corporate to purchase, hoard and blackmarket food.”
The AIKSCC said the New Year was observed by millions of people by taking a pledge to struggle with the farmers and against rising hunger in the country. Farm unions have launched one of the largest strikes in decades to demand that the Centre revoke the three contentious laws approved by Parliament in September.
The laws essentially change the way India’s farmers do business by creating free markets, as opposed to a network of decades-old, government marketplaces, allowing traders to stockpile essential commodities for future sales and laying down a national framework for contract farming.
These laws are The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020.
Together, the laws will allow big corporations and global supermarket chains to buy directly from farmers, bypassing decades-old regulations.
Farmers say the reforms will make them vulnerable to exploitation by big corporations, erode their bargaining power and weaken the procurement system, whereby the government buys staples such as wheat and rice at guaranteed rates.