Farmers protests to continue as tension mounts at Punjab-Haryana border

Thursday night’s third round of negotiations didn’t yield any result.

Puja Das
First Published16 Feb 2024
Farmers protesting at the Sambhu border of Punjab and Haryana near Ambala on Friday, Ravi Kumar/ Hindustan Times
Farmers protesting at the Sambhu border of Punjab and Haryana near Ambala on Friday, Ravi Kumar/ Hindustan Times

Farmers’ unions have called for demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday outside the residences of prominent political leaders in Punjab, following four days of protests after another round of negotiations failed.

Tension mounted at the Punjab-Haryana Shambhu border as security personnel fired teargas shells to disperse farmers protesting at the site on Friday. 

This happened after the third round of negotiations between the farmer unions, Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann, and Union ministers Piyush Goyal, Arjun Munda, and Nityanand Rai concluded in the early hours of Friday.

Addressing the media late Thursday, Munda had said the farmers had brought up several important issues, making the meeting “very positive”, adding that the next round of talks would be held on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Haryana government has extended its suspension of internet services till Saturday to “prevent any disturbance of peace and public order”.

Extending support to the protesting farmer unions at Shambhu and Khanauri borders in Haryana, the Bharti Kisan Union (Ugrahan) has announced two days of demonstrations, on Saturday and Sunday, outside the houses of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Punjab state president Sunil Jakhar in Abohar, and BJP leaders Captain Amarinder Singh in Patiala and Kewal Dhillon in Barnala.

The union also said staff at toll plazas in Punjab will not be allowed to collect payments from commuters.

The protests had taken a violent turn earlier in the week, as the Haryana Police, in a bid to block farmers from marching towards Delhi, fired teargas shells and rubber bullets, injuring at least 40 farmers. At least three farmers reportedly lost their vision due to pellet injuries.

In Friday's Grameen Bharat Bandh, and blockade was organized at 240 places in Punjab, as per information received from the farmer union Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM). 

Thousands of members of 16 farmer unions from Punjab, mainly the SKM (non-political) and the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC) headed for the national capital in tractors and utility vehicles for their ‘Dilli Chalo’ agitation.

Several prominent unions had called for a nationwide industrial or sectoral strike and Grameen Bandh on Friday to press the Union government to accept demands such as a legal guarantee on the minimum support price, or MSP, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission's recommendations, pension for farmers and farm labourers, and farm debt waiver.

They have also sought withdrawal of police cases against protesting farmers, "justice" for the victims of the Lakhimpur Kheri violence, reinstatement of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, and compensation to the families of the farmers who died during the previous agitation in 2020-21.

For many, the protests revived memories of 2020, when thousands of farmers gathered outside Delhi demanding a repeal of three new farm laws.

That protest was withdrawn after the government relented, but on the condition that it would take measures to widen the MSP regime and make it more effective. But an expert committee set up in July 2022 to resolve the matter is yet to submit a report.

Government agencies buy crops from farmers at MSP, a model that works best for rice and wheat. For other crops such as pulses and oilseeds, farmers are often forced to sell to private traders at prices below MSP.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, after laying the foundation stone for AIIMS-Rewari, said on Friday that his BJP government at the Centre has been working on schemes for the "benefit of farmers". This came amid the second edition of the farmers' protest.

Modi said that the Centre gave the farmers the "guarantee" to seek loans from banks, which earlier was denied to them.

"We gave Modi guarantee to farmers... Banks did not give them loans, but we gave guarantee to the farmers," he added.

The latest round of protests comes after muted farm earnings over the past year, during which the government placed export curbs on wheat, rice, sugar and onion, depressing local prices. 

Farm incomes were also hit by repeated climate shocks such as heatwaves and uneven rains. 

 

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