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Business News/ News / India/  Farmers’ leaders to meet union ministers after police use pellet guns, tear gas on protesters
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Farmers’ leaders to meet union ministers after police use pellet guns, tear gas on protesters

Three cabinet ministers – Arjun Munda, Piyush Goyal and Nityananda Rai – who had met farmers twice before the march began are expected to engage in another round of talks around 5 pm on Thursday.

Police use tear gas to disperse farmers at the Punjab-Haryana Shambhu border. Photo: PTIPremium
Police use tear gas to disperse farmers at the Punjab-Haryana Shambhu border. Photo: PTI

A meeting has been scheduled for Thursday evening between the leaders of agitating farmers and union ministers, according to Punjab government officials who attended a meeting between three farmer leaders and intelligence officers on Wednesday.

Intelligence officials in Punjab met the three farmer leaders at a hotel in Rajpura, near the Shambhu blockade, with a message from the union government and said two of them – Jagjit Singh Dallewal and Sarwan Singh Pandher – agreed to meet the union ministers in Chandigarh on Thursday. On Wednesday evening, Punjab government officials facilitated a virtual meeting between the farmer leaders and the union government.

Three cabinet ministers – Arjun Munda, Piyush Goyal and Nityananda Rai – who had met farmers twice before the march began are expected to engage in another round of talks around 5 pm on Thursday.

Meanwhile, farmers accused the Haryana police of using pellet guns against them at the Khanouri border on Wednesday, and firing tear gas at them for the second straight day at the Shambhu border to prevent them from reaching the multi-layered barricades around the national capital.

Thousands of farmers from Punjab began their journey to Delhi in tractors, SUVs and other vehicles on Tuesday morning, after the previous evening’s meeting with union ministers, at which they pressed for legally guaranteed minimum support prices (MSP) for their crops, failed to yield results.

The Haryana police on Tuesday fired nearly 4,500 tear-gas shells on the protesting farmers, most of them using drones. Officials from the Delhi police meanwhile were guarding the borders amid the farmers' ‘Delhi chalo’ call.

Additionally, the Haryana police allegedly fired pellets at farmers at the Khanouri border. According to reports, more than 100 farmers were injured.

Huge numbers of police and paramilitary personnel, besides multi-layered barricading, are in place to seal the national capital’s borders at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur. Central Delhi is also under heavy security cover, with personnel in anti-riot gear deployed strategically and metal and concrete barricades regulating access to several key roads.

Objecting to the use of tear-gas and pellets, Patiala deputy commissioner Showkat Ahmed wrote to his Ambala counterpart Shaleen on Wednesday, asking him to refrain from entering the state’s territory.

“In Ambala alone, so far in two days 15 protesters have been injured and over a dozen accounts on X (formerly Twitter) and Facebook have been withheld," Tejveer Singh Ambala, the spokesperson of BKU (Shaheed Bhagat Singh) told Mint. “We will march to Delhi tomorrow until we are blocked by barricades."

Though the protesters are still far from New Delhi, traffic jams were rife across the National Capital Region (NCR) because of the barricades. 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 wider and make it more effective. 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 others such as pulses and oilseeds, farmers are often forced to sell to private traders at prices below MSP.

“Guaranteeing MSP for all crops can lead to farmers moving to crops other than paddy and wheat, which see the maximum procurement," agreed Pushan Sharma, director, research, CRISIL Market Intelligence & Analytics. “Another critical aspect to consider is that procurement is concentrated in only a few states such as Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh,

Telangana and Uttar Pradesh, so farmers in other states don’t get the benefit of MSP. Guaranteeing an MSP across crops will spread the benefit across the country. It will support farmers’ incomes and boost consumption demand."

Currently, the cost of cultivation parameters used to calculate MSP include an imputed value of family labour, but not the rental value of farmland. Farmers have repeatedly complained that this depresses MSP figures.

The protests have been organised by the Kisan Majdoor Morcha, an umbrella body of farmer unions in Punjab, Haryana and other states.

The agitating farmers’ key demand — setting MSP based on the cost of cultivation plus a 50% margin — was first recommended by the Swaminathan committee in 2006.

In addition, farmers are asking for a loan waiver, social security benefits such as pensions, and a revamp of the crop insurance scheme. They also want higher duties on imported agricultural produce, as duty-free imports lead to lower farmgate prices.

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.

Meanwhile, the Punjab government extended support to farmers injured in the protests. The state’s health and family welfare minister Balbir Singh said on Wednesday that the state government would bear the cost of their treatment, according to an official statement.

Singh added that keeping in view the safety of protesting farmers, hospitals adjoining the Haryana border had been put on high alert and emergency services were being provided around the clock.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Puja Das
Puja Das is a New Delhi based reporter, covering food, farm, fertiliser, water, and climate change policies for Mint. Puja reports on food security, farmers' distress and how the agriculture sector is impacting India's rural economy along with policy initiatives to help meet the pledges made at COP21 in Paris. Puja holds a post-graduation degree in Broadcast Journalism from the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media, Bangalore.
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Published: 14 Feb 2024, 08:30 PM IST
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