On November 26 and 27, farmers from Punjab decided to flout the Delhi border as part of the Delhi protest or popularly being called as the 'Dilli Chalo' protest. The Wire reported more than three lakh farmers, including two lakh Punjab farmers had reached the Delhi border on November 27. As measures against the protesting farmers, the police in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand have arrested more than 100 local farmer leaders, detaining many other to prevent the movement from growing stronger.
On Friday, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha issued a press release saying during the protest march, at least 720 farmers, who were marching from Majnu ka Tila towards Rajghat, were arrested by the Delhi government. The detained protestors were then taken to a stadium in Hari Nagar in Delhi. But the farmers' group gave no signs of backing down as they claimed that they expected large tractor convoys to enter Delhi on Friday night or Saturday morning.
But why did groups of angry farmers organize a large-scale protest march against the Centre? Farmers in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana are demanding that the central government withdraws the three farm laws and Electricity Bill, 2020.
What's happening at the farmers' protest?
Thousands of Punjab farmers, most of them senior citizens, have united in groups to march to New Delhi in continuation of their protest against the Centre's farm laws. Due to this, New Delhi police has been on their toes since Thursday, trying to control the massive farmers' protest march.
The police are using tear gas and water cannons to stop the farmers
They've restricted possible entry into the national capital at the Haryana Delhi border and other border areas. It was reported that some of the angry farmers in Haryana were armed with sticks and swords, flung police barricades into a river, threw bricks at cops and physically pushed vehicles when they were stopped from marching towards Delhi. The protestors seem to be determined to reach the Centre as even when police personnel deployed tear gas shells and water cannons on them, they persevered.
The Delhi police don't seem to be backing down either. At the main Delhi Haryana border or the Singhu border, officers put up barbed wires and police barricades to stop the farmers' from heading towards Delhi. Adopting an innovative tactic, police officers stationed trolleys filled with mud and sand to put some weight on the roads in order to block the Haryana farmers from crossing the border. According to India TV News, law enforcement also used drones to keep an eye on the protesters and track their movements at border areas.
What do the protesting farmers want?
The biggest demand put forward by protesters is a rollback of Centre's new farm laws passed by the Parliament a few months ago. Most farmer unions state the three farm bills are not in their favour but rather support big corporates by privatising agriculture. The farmers fear that the three new bills will open up the tightly-controlled agriculture sector to threatening free-market forces.
Supporters of the new farm bills argue that the laws were created to benefit farmers. For instance, they will make it easier for farmers to sell their produce directly to private buyers, cutting down the role of crooked middlemen who often eat away at small farmers’ profits. A healthy partnership between farmers and corporates, according to the Centre, will successfully stimulate growth in our agriculture sector.
Congress, the ruling party's main opposition, has labelled the bills as "black law" and "pro-corporate". Rahul Gandhi went as far as to accuse Narendra Modi of "making farmers 'slaves' of the capitalists.."
BJP government defends the Farm Bills
Modi defended the move on Twitter by saying, “For decades, the Indian farmer was bound by various constraints and bullied by middlemen. The bills passed by Parliament liberate the farmers from such adversities.”
Here, Modi is referring to the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act passed in 1964 which made it mandatory for farmers to sell their produce at government-regulated mandis (markets), where middlemen connected farmers to private sellers. The government claims that the Centre's new farm laws will end the monopoly of APMC markets but they won't be completely shut down. In addition, the Minimum Support Price (MSP) or the price at which the government buy farm produce will still remain.
Farmers will also be able to engage in inter-state trade which wasn’t allowed earlier. However, if farmers do join arms with private companies and partake in inter-state trade, state governments will stand to lose out on tax revenues from government-regulated mandis.
For decades, India's agricultural sector has been suffering as farmers have found themselves in deep debts due to crop failures and meagre incomes. Unable to pay high debts, farmers resort to suicide - a worrying epidemic in India. Critics view the new farm bill as an attempt by the BJP government to bring private investment to revive the crumbling agricultural sector. The current understanding is that farmers are protesting due to their apprehensions about the privatisation of agriculture but they aren't just worried about corporate intervention, as they claim there are several other concerns hindering them.
A list of other demands by farmers
According to India Today, the farmers have also demanded a written assurance in the form of a bill which states that MSP and conventional food grain procurement system will still continue.
The third big demand is for the Centre to drop the Electricity Bill Amendment. The All India Power Engineers Federation (AIPEF) spokesperson V K Gupta had earlier criticised the bill as "anti-farmer" and "anti-domestic consumer", saying that it was going to privatise the entire power sector in the country.
"After the Bill is passed, farmers will have to pay a monthly power tariff of Rs 5,000-6,000, while subsidized domestic consumers will have to pay at least Rs 8-10 per unit for the consumption of up to 300 units per month", he added. Farmers are worried that if the Bill becomes a law, they will lose free power supply as the government will discontinue free power supply to farmers in Punjab.
The fourth demand is to do away with a provision under which farmers who burn farm residue can be imprisoned for 5 years and charged with a humongous fine of Rs 1 crore. Regarding the same law, the protesters want police to release farmers arrested on charges of burning paddy stubble in Punjab.
So, it's not merely about three agriculture laws, there is a lot more at stake for these farmers. Some Punjab farmer unions have also raised local issues, for example, they've asked to be paid sugarcane prices at par with Haryana farmers.
Till now the Union government has failed to pacify the agitated farmers. The talks between farmer union leaders and representatives of states and Centre turned to be inconclusive. So, the next round of talks has been scheduled for December 3, 2020. Things appear to be bleak for the farmers at the moment as the Centre has refused to repeal the farm laws. They, however, agreed to set up a committee to have a look at the other demands made by farmers. To this, thirty farmer unions have said that they will resume protests on railways tracks after December 10 if their demands aren't met.
While the Punjab government had listened to the demands of their farmers and passed another set of bills to negate the new ones, farmer unions are sceptical of them getting the President's approval. Currently, it seems both the Centre and state governments of farmer-populated states have failed to reassure the farmers. This is why lakhs of farmers have decided to march to the national capital to make a statement.