In a bid to rally greater support for the agitating farmers' cause, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) Rakesh Tikait on Wednesday met West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata to discuss issues related to agriculture and new farm laws. Banerjee, on her part, has assured farmer leaders of support in their stir.
“For the last 7 months, they (Central government) didn't bother to speak to farmers. I demand that all three farm laws are withdrawn,” news agency ANI quoted Banerjee as saying, while also adding that “bulldozing” states is not good for a federal structure.
After the meeting, Tikait thanked the chief minister for her assurance and said, “Bengal should work as a model state and farmers should be given more benefits."
The remarks come against the backdrop of farmers protesting against the agricultural legislation, enacted by the Centre last year, for over six months now. The agitators have blocked three highways connecting Delhi with Uttar Pradesh and Haryana.
As of now, there seems to be no end in sight for the campaign as farmers look to intensify their movement demanding a complete rollback of three farm laws cleared during the 2020 monsoon session.
The central government, on the other hand, has ruled out the repeal of laws and offered to make amendments. The farmers, however, have refused to budge, which has failed to break the deadlock between the two sides despite mutliple rounds of talks.
Here’s a look at the latest developments on farmers’ protests
What do the farmers want?
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of 40 farmer unions, on June 8, demanded the immediate enactment of legislation by the government to guarantee remunerative Minimum Support Price (MSP) for all farmers.
In a statement cited by news agency PTI, the farmers' body said with the rising fuel prices and other costs, farmers are unable to even cover the cost of cultivation and production.
Last month, SKM also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking his intervention for the resumption of talks between the government and farmers.
What the government says?
Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, the chief negotiator representing the Centre, on June 8, said that the government is ready to interact with the farmers on other options but not repeal of laws.
"The Central government has always talked in the interest of farmers' welfare...If the farmers' organisations are ready to discuss options other than the agriculture bills, then the government is ready to talk with them," news agency PTI quoted him as saying.
Niti Aayog Member Ramesh Chand suggested that the farmers must highlight the deficiencies of the laws instead of demanding their scrapping.
"There should be some signal from the farmer's side that they are willing to discuss all matters and they are willing to point out what are the deficiencies of these laws as the government has already asked them that (to point out) whatever is wrong with these laws. If there are two things wrong, tell us, if there are five things which you don't accept, please tell us," he said.
Why #500DeathsAtFarmersProtest is trending on Twitter?
While the number of farmers who have died during the protests could not be confirmed, a Free Press Journal report in March stated the toll to be above 300, citing an update from Kisan Ekta Morcha. Today, several people backing the agitation have taken to Twitter to say as many as 500 farmers lost their lives during the agitation.
Punjab Ekta Party chief Sukhpal Singh Khaira also contributed to the trend and tweeted, “More than 500 farmers have died at Farmers Protest in last 6 months. Modi govt. is sole responsible for all those deaths. The Farm laws must be repealed. #500DeathsAtFarmersProtest.”
Many deaths were reported especially in the winter months of December and January when the farmers, determined to camp at Delhi borders, succumbed to the cold.
“Our farmers are living in tractor trolleys in harsh conditions. The conditions are unhygienic too because one cannot find clean toilets on the roads because of which several farmers picked illnesses and died due to several types of ailments such as cold, heart attack, brain hemorrhage, diabetes, and pneumonia. Several lost their lives while travelling on the highways day and night to Singhu and Tikri borders,” Bhartiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda) general secretary Jagmohan Singh had told Indian Express.
The big picture
Farmers, who have been camping at Delhi borders since November last year, believe that the new laws leave them at the mercy of big corporators.
The government, however, has assured that will inject private investment in the agriculture sector and raise the earnings of farmers by setting up warehouses in rural areas where they can store their crops and sell them when prices favor them.
The protesters are demanding a complete rollback of the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, and Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020.
(Edited by: By Ajay Vaishnav)