India

Protesting farmers call for Bharat Bandh; key talks today

Farmers agitating against three farm laws on Friday announced a nationwide strike, or Bharat Bandh, on December 8 where they said they will block all toll plazas and roads leading to Delhi as they hardened their position ahead of the fifth round of talks with the central government scheduled for Saturday.

Four rounds of negotiations, conducted between three Union ministers and farmers’ representatives, have so far failed to break the deadlock between the two sides as thousands of cultivators continued their stir just outside Delhi’s borders for the eight straight day.

On Thursday, the Centre had agreed to review the recently enacted legislation and “bring amendments” if required to address the farmers’ demands. The farmers, however, have stuck to their stand and said that they did not want amendments to the new laws but want them rolled back entirely.

Farmer leader Gurnam Singh Chadoni said on Friday that if the Centre does not accept their demands during fifth meeting on Saturday, they will further intensify their agitation.

“In our meeting today, we have decided to give a ‘Bharat Bandh’ call on December 8 during which we will also occupy all toll plazas,” said Harinder Singh Lakhowal, general secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Union, one of the groups involved in the talks. “We have planned to block all roads leading to Delhi in the coming days if new farm laws are not scrapped,” he said, addressing a press conference at Singhu border that connects Delhi and Haryana.

“Yesterday (Thursday), we told the government that the farm laws should be withdrawn,” he told reporters, adding that the farmers will burn effigies of the government and corporate houses on December 5, and that sportspersons will return their medals in solidarity with the farmers on December 7. However, he did not divulge the details of sportspersons who would be returning their medals.

The call for the Bharat Bandh was supported by various other farmers’ organisations. Hannan Mollah, general secretary of All India Kisan Sabha, said, “We need to take this protest forward.”

The government, meanwhile, insisted that it was approaching the issue with an “open mind”. Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar had said after the talks that the government has no ego and it was discussing the issues raised by farmers with an open mind. “The government will discuss points that emerged at the meeting on Friday and hopes that talks will move towards finality when the next round of discussions is held on Saturday,” Tomar had said.

Thursday’s talks were led by Tomar, railways, food and consumer affairs minister Piyush Goyal and minister of state for commerce Som Prakash, a lawmaker from Punjab, while representatives of some of the biggest farmers unions in the country, mainly from Punjab, spoke for the farmers.

Tens of thousands of farmers were out on the streets around Delhi again on Friday, forcing police to shut a majority of roads connecting the Capital from neighbouring satellite towns such as Gurugram and Noida.

While the farmers want the three farm laws approved by Parliament in September to be revoked, the government has leaned on its new reform agenda to raise farm incomes and spur investments in the sector.

The recent laws allow businesses to freely trade farm produce outside the so-called government-controlled mandi system, permit private traders to stockpile large quantities of essential commodities for future sales and lay down new rules for contract farming.

Farmers fear the reforms could pave the way for the government to stop buying staples at federally fixed minimum support prices (MSPs), erode their bargaining power and leave them at the mercy of private buyers.

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