THREE WEEKS after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the repeal of the three farm laws and days after Parliament officially annulled them, protesting farmers brought the curtains down on their year-long agitation at the Singhu border of Delhi.
After receiving a letter from the government promising to meet the farmers’ demands, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) on Thursday declared to return home after suspending its agitation on Saturday, albeit with a rider that a review meeting would be convened on January 15.
The government’s letter, signed by Sanjay Agrawal, Secretary, Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, was finalised after the farmers suggested additions/deletions over two drafts.
“It is a historic victory. The Government had to repeal the three laws that were anti-farmer, anti-people and in the interests of corporates. For one year, farmers from all states braved the weather, Covid, defamation…and camped at the borders of Delhi,” Ashok Dhawale, who is a member of the five-member panel that negotiated with the Centre, said.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Balbir Singh Rajewal said: “Today, we are leaving after defeating a dictatorial government. On January 15, SKM will meet again to review if the Government takes back the cases it has slapped on protesters and if it acts on other demands.”
Another BKU leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni said: “Every month we will review in our meetings the commitments made by the Government.” BKU’s Rakesh Tikait said: “I will go to Darbar Sahib in Amritsar to pay obeisance and then to my village.”
Referring to the key demand on minimum support price, Yogendra Yadav, Swaraj India leadersaid: “On MSP, the Government has given an assurance that procurement will take place at existing prices. They have given an assurance in writing. But it is a vaguely worded promise. I do not feel that on MSP, there is anything substantive as of now. But it has given us a foothold to discuss our demands in the committee.”
The agitation, which drew farmers mainly from Punjab, UP and Haryana, was suspended a fortnight after both Houses of Parliament repealed the new laws.
The movement had become one of the biggest challenges for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
It was in September last year the protests gathered strength after the farm laws were cleared in Parliament: The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020; The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020.
The key concern was that the new laws would end the existing Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis and the decades-old ecosystem around it, including commission agents. Within days, the NDA’s key Punjab partner, Shiromani Akali Dal, exited the coalition.
On the demand for a legal guarantee on MSP, the letter reiterated the Government’s stand that the existing system of MSP-based procurement will continue, for now.
The letter, however, “clarified that the representatives of the SKM will also be included in the farmer’s representatives” on the committee that will be formed to discuss this issue. “One of the mandates of the committee would be how to ensure that farmers of the country avail the MSP,” the letter said.
Responding to the demand for compensation to the families of farmers who died during the protest, the Government said Haryana and UP have given “in-principle” consent and that the Punjab government has already made an announcement. Punjab has announced Rs 5 lakh and a job to each family.