In more symbolic support to the farmers’ protest on the fringes of Delhi, a senior agricultural scientist refused to accept an award from Union minister Sadanand Gowda in solidarity with the ongoing movement for the repeal of the contentious farm laws.
A long line of sports icons, mostly from Punjab, have threatened to return their awards if the Centre doesn’t roll back the three laws that are believed to have stoked the farmers’ unrest.
Dr. Varinderpal Singh, Principal Soil Chemist at Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Ludhiana, went up on the dais at an event organised by the Fertilizers Association of India in the Capital on Monday, but refused to receive the award from the Union minister for chemicals and fertilizers.
The golden jubilee award was in recognition of the 48-year-old’s work in the field of plant nutrition. Singh stepped on the dais as his name was announced for the award, but handed copies of a letter he wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, instead, to the minister and Dr. Satish Chander, director, FAI, who was also on stage at the time.
Singh then delivered a short speech, saying, “My conscience does not allow me to receive this award when our farmers are on the roads.”
Raising a slogan – ‘we support farmers’ – from the stage, he returned to his seat in the audience, turning down repeated requests by the organisers to accept the award.
Singh had led a research team which worked on developing the PAU-leaf colour chart (PAU-LCC) technology for optimising consumption of urea in field crops. He said, “Once this technology goes into farming, it will help farmers, in Punjab alone, save Rs 750 crores. Across the country, it will enable farmers save millions in input costs.”
“I wish all our institutions can come together and work for the country. The government should pay heed to our farmers. The work I was a part of is dedicated to our farmers and the country. Hence, it would be morally wrong to accept the award at a time the farmers are out on the streets, protesting (against the farm laws). However, I do humbly express my gratitude to the honourable minister and director, FAI. Kindly accept my apologies,” Singh said.
“I regret any inconvenience that my decision may have caused. However, I do reaffirm our pledge and commitment to work for the government and be part of the collaborative effort to make India a great country,” said the senior agricultural scientist before concluding his short address by chanting “We support farmers”.
The minister and the other dignitaries on stage stood motionless as Singh made his short speech and turned on his heels.
Singh’s letter to the PM opens with the line, “I am neither a politician nor a terrorist”. He said he was writing as an Indian professionally dedicated to the welfare of farmers.
“I don’t want to receive this award from any government official because of the unnecessary pain being inflicted on peacefully protesting farmers by the Union government. The government tried to break their resolve but the farmers continue to hold their ground in a disciplined manner. It pains me how a section of our media has resorted to labelling our ‘Annadata’ (food provider) as ‘terrorists’,” Singh wrote.
“I would request you (PM) to immediately announce withdrawal of these laws in Parliament. Ignoring the farmers’ demands and keeping them on roads in this winter is not in the interest of the nation. Please listen to the voice of India. Anything short of a complete rollback of these laws would be an act betrayal to our farmers and the country,” he wrote.
Singh has more than 100 research publications in soil science and many awards to his name. His colleagues at the agricultural institute took to social media to commend his gesture of solidarity with the protesting farmers.