Centre, farmers hold talks as more unions plan to join stir | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Centre, farmers hold talks as more unions plan to join stir

By, , Sunil Rahar, , Karnal/rohtak/new Delhi
Feb 15, 2024 04:49 AM IST

Union ministers Piyush Goyal, Nityanand Rai, and Munda to lead talks Thursday with farm leaders Jagjit Singh Dallewal and Sarwan Singh Pandher.

A panel of central ministers will begin a third round of negotiations with protesting farmers on Thursday, people aware of the matter said, as the Centre aims to resolve a stir that has choked the borders between Punjab and Haryana even as the agitation appeared likely to expand on Wednesday, with a bunch of key farm unions pledging their support.

Farmers clash with police at Shambhu border. (REUTERS)
Farmers clash with police at Shambhu border. (REUTERS)

Meanwhile, defence minister Rajnath Singh and agriculture minister Arjun Munda held talks on Wednesday, said officials aware of their discussions, with the former consulted to end a deadlock that has threatened to spill over into Delhi, which security forces have fortified with layers of barricades and advanced surveillance equipment.

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The news of high-level discussions, however, did little to calm restive farmers from Punjab and Haryana, who continued to lay siege to the borders between the two north Indian states, with fresh face-offs between agitators and security personnel at the Shambhu and Jind borders. They have called a nationwide strike on Friday.

The traffic mess in Delhi eased somewhat — though the borders between Delhi and Haryana, and Delhi and Uttar Pradesh still remained clogged — as police streamlined diversions, and thousands of commuters opted for public transit instead of private vehicles after the nightmarish snarls on Tuesday.

Union ministers Piyush Goyal, Nityanand Rai and Munda will lead the talks on Thursday, according to an invite sent to farm leaders Jagjit Singh Dallewal and Sarwan Singh Pandher, who are leading the agitation. Goyal and Munda were both part of the first two rounds of talks with protesters, held on February 8 and 12 respectively, while Rai was present during the first.

Dallewal, convener of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Sidhupur), said they will take a call on the future of the protests depending on the outcome of Thursday’s meeting.

“We will not compromise on what we have demanded,” he said, referring to a raft of demands – a law on minimum support prices (MSP), debt waivers, jobs for relatives of people killed during the 13-month-long farmers protest in Delhi between November 2020 and December 2021, compensation for the farmers injured in Lakhimpur Kheri in October 2021, and the withdrawal of cases registered against protesting cultivators.

A string of major farmers’ unions lent their support to the ongoing protests on Wednesday, swelling an agitation that has so far been backed by fewer groups than the 2021-21 stir. The Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) and Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 37 farm unions, said they supported the ongoing protests. Both played key roles in the protests on Delhi’s fringes three years ago and have joined the current protests citing the “condemnable use of violence” against farmers.

BKU (Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokri Kalan slammed the police action.

“We stand with them in solidarity. To prove it, our supporters will hold rail roko (stop trains) at as many places as we can,” he announced. The organisation will block train tracks in Punjab between 12pm and 4pm on Thursday, he said, a day before the larger nationwide strike planned for February 16.

Harinder Singh Lakhowal, chief of BKU (Lakhowal), said the action was taken “at the Centre’s behest”.

“Why are they using tear gas shells on a peaceful protest ?” asked Lakhowal.

SKM will, meanwhile, meet in Ludhiana on February 18 to decide its next course of action.

Farmers and police, for their part, continued to clash at the Punjab-Haryana border on Wednesday.

Police personnel lobbed tear gas shells and rubber bullets at protesting farmers as they tried to breach the deep cordon of security put in place to keep them from marching to Delhi, 200km south of the Shambhu border.

Agitators on Wednesday however said 65 farmers were injured as the police baton-charged the farmers, a day after similar scenes unfolded at the Punjab-Haryana border.

Haryana home minister Anil Vij defended the use of force against the farmers.

“When these groups (farmers) marched from Amritsar, the Punjab government did not make any effort to stop them anywhere on the way. This means they want to create chaos in Delhi” Vij said.

Senior SKM leader Azad Palwa, from Jind, said the protesters were sitting near Khanauri border when police resorted to lathicharge to disperse them.

“Our vehicles were damaged by the police. The Haryana Police is behaving like terrorists with Haryana and Punjab farmers. Nearly 15 farmers from Jind were detained by the police,” he said.

A couple of hundred kilometres away from the melee, Delhi appeared to better adapt to the police’s stringent arrangements to stop farmers from entering the Capital.

Vehicular movement, especially in central and south Delhi, was relatively smoother. Key stretches near Singhu and Tikri borders, which are the focus points of the police’s measures, reported massive snarls during morning and evening peak hours, as did commuters travelling between Delhi and Noida.

“The farmers were scheduled to reach Delhi on Tuesday. Although the protesting farmers were contained at the Punjab-Haryana borders, we received inputs that some political and non-political groups in small numbers may march to central Delhi. Accordingly, instructions were issued to put barricades at strategic locations in the city and intensify the checking of vehicles. The arrangements disrupted vehicular movement and caused bottleneck congestion on roads leading to the police pickets. As commuters used alternate routes to avoid traffic snarls, the volume of traffic increased on those roads as well,” said a senior traffic police officer.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Ravinder Vasudeva is a principal correspondent who writes for the Punjab bureau of Hindustan Times.

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Bhavey Nagpal is a staff correspondent based at Karnal. He reports on crime, politics, health, railways, highways, and civic affairs for northern Haryana districts.

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Karn Pratap Singh has been writing on crime, policing, and issues of safety in Delhi for almost a decade. He covers high-intensity spot news, including terror strikes, serial blasts and security threats in the national capital.

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