After day-long protests by farmers, who were stopped by police at the Delhi border following clashes that left at least 14 injured, the Centre Tuesday moved to prevent the agitation from snowballing into a crisis in an election year. As the government said they had accepted most demands, protesters rejected the assurances and continued a sit-in protest in the neighbouring Ghaziabad district of Uttar Pradesh.
Trouble began when farmers from several states, including poll-bound Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, were stopped by police from completing the final leg of a ten-day Kisan Kranti Yatra by crossing the Uttar Pradesh border into Delhi.
At 11:15 am, tractors leading the rally pushed past a security chain on the Uttar Pradesh side of the Ghazipur flyover and marched on to be met with Delhi police barricades on the other side. As the group tried to push through these barricades, water-cannons were used to push them back.
Minutes later, tear gas shells were fired and a baton charge ordered to push farmers back. In the rush that ensued, several were injured, including seven police personnel, and taken to a nearby private hospital for treatment.
The stand-off ended two hours later when farmers were pushed back into Ghaziabad. As night fell, farmers put out mattresses on the road between Ghaziabad and Delhi to continue the protest.
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Amid the stand-off, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh chaired a meeting with a delegation of farmers led by Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) general secretary Yudhvir Singh that also included Union Minister of State for Agriculture, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat. Singh is expected to chair another meeting with farmers within the next few days and spoke to BKU chief Rakesh Tikait over phone and conveyed that the government was keen to address their demands.
Among the farmers’ demands are the implementation of the Swaminathan report, lifting an NGT ban on 10-year-old tractors, uniform and complete procurement of crops, uniformity in loan waivers across the country, equal electricity tariff, a farmer-friendly insurance scheme, equal pension to both farmers and agricultural labourers and GST levied on farming equipment.
“The government has accepted seven of their demands and our doors are open for the farmers who want to fine-tune or improvise the programmes initiated by the Narendra Modi government,” Shekhawat told The Indian Express.
The Centre was non-committal on loan waivers and higher Minimum Support Price (MSP). “For the rest of the demands, we will meet again within a few days at the Home Minister’s residence,” he said.
According to Tikait, they did not plan on marching forward to Kisan Ghat. “We are hoping that this entire issue is resolved through negotiations and we are continuing our dharna,” he said.
Yudhvir Singh, who was part of the delegation that met the Home Minister, said: “Of the 11 demands, seven were accepted but two important demands — implementing the Swaminathan Report and the loan waivers — were not,” he said. “We were told by Singh that these are financial matters and will be deliberated upon later.”
Also present at the meeting were members of farmers’ associations and unions from Tamil Nadu and Kerala. “Singh was in favour of some demands but we are not satisfied with the outcome of the meeting…it’s lip service, we have been given this surety in the past as well,” said Sellamuthu (70), president of the Tamil Nadu Farmers’ Association.
“The farmers wanted the ban on the use of 10-year-old tractors to be revoked, which is not in our jurisdiction as it is by the NGT. But, even we feel it is a reasonable demand as we cannot consider tractor as a vehicle, it is a farming tool. We will approach the NGT for a review or we can go to the Supreme Court,” Shekhawat said, expressing “happiness and satisfaction” after the discussions.
He also said that the government will make an announcement on MSP for rabi crops in 3-4 days and the demand for increasing the procurement days from one month to three months (90 days) also is under consideration. “The farmers also wanted the damage by the wild animals also to be included in the crop insurance scheme. The government has already introduced pilot project for it in one district in every state,” Shekhawat said.
UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said that he had sent two UP ministers to Delhi three days ago to speak with farmers. “Some of their (farmers) issues have already been taken care of by our government, like loses caused by stray cattle and old vehicles,” he said.
Referring to the clashes with police, he said that “everyone has the right to go to Delhi but no one has the right to take law in their hands”. He urged the farmers to be patient until talks with the high-level delegation were completed.
The clash drew sharp criticism from the Opposition with Congress president Rahul Gandhi accusing the BJP brutally “beating up” farmers at the Delhi border on the International Day of Non-Violence.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said, “We strongly condemn this action and atrocities on farmers. This once again demonstrates the anti-farmer attitude of the Modi government.”