Talks between the government and representatives of farmer unions from Punjab ended on a stormy note as members of the delegation walked out of a meeting with Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agarwal, demanding the presence of the Minister and accusing the Centre of adopting “double standards”.
The meeting at Krishi Bhawan, which houses the Agriculture Ministry, went on for barely an hour and came to a sudden end as the farmer leaders walked out of the meeting. Representatives of 29 farm unions from Punjab — which is at the centre of the recent protests against three farm laws passed by Parliament — had come to New Delhi to participate in the meeting.
Dr Darshan Pal, a member of the coordinating committee of the 29 farm organisations, told The Indian Express, “There were more than 40 of us but only 10 were called to hold talks with the Secretary. As soon as we reached the venue, around 11.40 am, each of us was given a file with copies of the farm laws.”
He said their biggest grudge was that there was no minister to talk to them and that Minister of State for Agriculture Kailash Choudhary was addressing farmers of Punjab through videoconferencing on a day that they had been called to Delhi for the talks.
While Choudhary was holding his virtual meeting at the BJP headquarters, Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar was in the Cabinet meeting that was on at that time, The Indian Express has learnt.
“Aggarwal could not give us any satisfactory reply, and only said ‘Discuss karte hain’. We told him that BJP appears to be playing politics. We questioned the government’s double standards — first, they invite us here and then they campaign against us in Punjab,” said Pal, who is also president of the Krantikari Kisan Union, Punjab.
The Indian Express tried to reach out to Agarwal for his version of the events at the meeting, but his office said he was busy and not available for comment.
Soon after the meeting ended, the farmer leaders assembled at the gates and sat on a dharna, during which they tore copies of the farm laws. Joginder Singh, state president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, Ekta (Ugrahan), said, “We were told that the meeting has been called by the department. But when we saw that the meeting is with the Agriculture Secretary and not with the Minister of Agriculture, we decided to walk out.”
Singh submitted to the Agriculture Secretary a 10-point demand list, which included repealing of the farm laws and the Electricity Amendment Act, 2020, and that the government legally ensure procurement of farm produce on minimum support price. The demands also include “immediately release of detained and imprisoned intellectuals, democratic rights activists and student activists all over the country.”
Later in the evening, the Agriculture Ministry issued a statement saying, “This meeting was scheduled to be held at the level of Secretary Agriculture (AC&FW) Government of India… In this meeting, various issues related to farmers’ welfare were discussed for about two hours. At the end of this meeting, two memorandums on behalf of the Farmers’ Unions were given to Secretary… The Government of India is always committed to protect the interest of farmers and is always open for discussions.”
with Inputs from Raakhi Jagga, Chandigarh
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