As thousands of farmers from Haryana and Punjab took over national and state highways leading to Delhi on Thursday, Union Ministers Narendra Singh Tomar and Rajnath Singh appealed for calm and invited them for talks.
After braving water cannon and lathis, and casting aside barricades, protesters on the march against the three new central farm laws were camping for the night on the highways.
A large group of farmers, mainly from Haryana, were at Panipat toll plaza, some 65 km from the Delhi border on the Delhi-Ambala highway; another group of mainly farmers from Punjab was camping at Karnal, 100 km from the Delhi border on the same highway.
A third, smaller group was moving on the Delhi-Sirsa highway, and had reached Hansi in Hisar district, some 115 km from the Delhi border. Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav was detained at Bilaspur village in Gurgaon while leading a group of protesters on the Delhi-Jaipur highway.
As they converge on Delhi from multiple directions, the farmers are prepared for the long haul. Their tractor trolleys are laden with rations and bedding. They are also on trucks, buses, and jeeps; many are marching on foot as well.
In the afternoon, Agriculture Minister Tomar sent conciliatory signals to the protesters, telling some reporters that the government was ready to talk about “issues and resolve differences” with them.
“I want to appeal to our farmer brothers to not agitate,” Tomar said. “I am sure that our dialogue will have a positive result.”
In the evening, Rajnath Singh said he was the son of a farmer himself, and that the government could not “betray” farmers.
“I appeal to them that end your protests, I invite them for discussions,” Singh said at the HT Leadership Summit. “I am the Defence Minister, but as the son of a farmer, as a farmer, I want to invite them. I am ready to talk to them. We cannot betray the farmers.”
Both Tomar and Singh sought to persuade farmers that the new laws would benefit them, and that apprehensions of the end of the minimum support price (MSP) regime and the mandi system were unfounded.
Through the day, multi-layer barricades comprising iron barriers, giant blocks of concrete, and concertina wire put up at various places on multiple national and state highways by Haryana Police could not stop the farmers on their “Delhi Chalo march to force the Centre to scrap the three farm laws, and obtain a legal guarantee of continuation of the MSP system.
Haryana Police used tear gas and water cannon, and carried out cane charges, but failed to stop the protesters. Police have taken over 90 farmer leaders into preventive custody over the last two days.
The situation was volatile across Haryana’s Fatehabad, Jind, Panipat, Sonipat, Rohtak, and Ambala districts. Police were pelted with stones at several places. There were reports of clashes between police and protesters in Ambala, Jind, Fatehabad, and Karnal. Government and private vehicles were damaged in Jind and Ambala as farmers clashed with police at the Shambhu barrier.
Neither the statement by Tomar in Delhi nor various attempts by the government in Haryana succeeded in pacifying the agitated farmers. In the afternoon, farmers’ organisations turned their backs on scheduled talks with Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar.
“The Chief Minister had invited leaders of the farmers unions for talks. They had agreed, but some hooligans prevailed upon the others, and the unions did not come for the talks,” Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij said. He said district administrations were continuing to try to negotiate with the farmers’ unions to avert disruptions and prevent large crowds from gathering in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As the farmers continued to break police barricades, Khattar entered into a war of words with his Punjab counterpart Capt Amarinder Singh. Both leaders posted a series of tweets against each other, with Amarinder asking Khattar not to use force on the farmers, and the Haryana CM accusing him of instigating the protesters.
Non-BJP leaders in both Haryana and Punjab have extended their support to the agitating farmers. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said peaceful protest was their “constitutional right”, and criticised Haryana and the Centre for using force on them. As the farmers reach Delhi on Friday, the largest numbers are expected to try to enter the capital at the Kundli border.
Haryana Police on Thursday evening advised people to avoid the points of entry into Delhi from Haryana on NH 10 (Hisar-Rohtak-Delhi) and NH 44 (Ambala-Panipat-Delhi). DGP Manoj Yadava warned the general public of inconvenience on the roads to Delhi, especially on the stretches between Panipat and Karnal, Karnal and Kurukshetra, and Kurukshetra and Ambala.
“Our field units tried to prevent farmers coming from Punjab from entering Haryana in a restrained manner… But the farmers not only damaged the police barricades, but proceeded by removing all the blockades and obstructions. Police did not use force, but the farmers tried to disturb law and order by throwing stones at police at many places,” the DGP said.
The Centre has invited the farmers for a second round of minister-level discussions on December 3. An earlier round of talks between the government and farm union representatives on November 13 had remained inconclusive.
Amid the protests, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution on Thursday said paddy procurement during the ongoing kharif marketing season was continuing “smoothly”.
“Paddy procurement for Kharif 2020-21 is continuing smoothly in the procuring States & UTs of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Chandigarh, Jammu & Kashmir, Kerala, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Maharashtra with purchase of over 307.03 LMTs (lakh metric tonnes) of paddy upto 25.11.2020 against the last year corresponding purchase of 259.41 LMT showing an increase of 18.35 % over last year,” the Ministry said in a statement.
“Out of the total purchase of 307.03 LMT, Punjab alone has contributed 202.53 LMT which is 65.96 % of total procurement,” it said.
Food Ministry data accessed by The Indian Express show that about 202 LMT of paddy had been procured in Punjab over the last two months of the kharif procurement season, from September 26 up to Wednesday.
This is 20 per cent higher than the target of 168.66 LMT for the current season, and higher than the 161 LMT of paddy procured in the corresponding period last year.
Procurement in Haryana has been lower. Since the beginning of the procurement on September 26, about 55 lakh tonnes of paddy had been procured in Haryana until November 25, which is lower than the 63 lakh tonnes procured in the corresponding period of 2019.
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