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Opinion | Talks between farmers and Centre must begin at the earliest

With more than 50,000 farmers assembled at the Haryana-Delhi border, and many more farmers on their way from Punjab, UP and Haryana to the national capital, the situation has now become tense. Delhi Police has offered Burari ground to farmers for staging their sit-in and all arrangements have been made, but some sections of farmers are insisting on marching towards Ramlila Maidan in central Delhi. Tractors of farmers who have reached Burari ground are being sanitized by Delhi Police to prevent outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic among farmers.   On Friday, there were clashes between police and farmers at Delhi’s Singhu border and police had to use mild lathi charge, tear gas and water cannons to stop farmers from advancing. At Tikri border, on Delhi-Bahadurgarh highway, farmers clashed with police and there was lathi charge and tear gas shells were used. There were massive traffic jams on Delhi-Gurugram highway, Peeragarhi, Mukarba Chowk and Dhaula Kuan as farmers insisted on moving towards central Delhi.   The only way out of the present impasse is immediate start of negotiations between the Centre and farmers’ representatives. If Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, one of the proponents of farmers’ interests, takes the initiative for talks, leaders of farmers’ organization may trust him. No one wants police to fire water cannons and resort to lathi charge on farmers in Delhi’s cold winter. If the government manages to persuade farmer leaders, a way out can be found. Neither the government, nor the farmers’ leaders should insist on remaining adamant, in the national interest.   The farmers have two main demands, or if we can say, two main points for apprehension. One, the new farm laws do not guarantee Minimum Support Prices for them, and Two, if the new laws are enforced, the agriculture ‘mandis’ (markets) will be abolished and farmers will be fully dependent on the whims and fancies of big corporates.   The farmers are apprehensive about abolition of MSPs because it is a fact that in many states, farmers do not even get the minimum support prices fixed by the Centre. They are forced to sell their produce at Rs 800 per quintal, even if the government fixes the MSP at Rs 1800. Farmers complain that they do not get MSPs for paddy, maize, mustard and some other crops. Several suggestions have been made in this regard, particularly the ‘Bhaavaantar’ scheme of Madhya Pradesh government, where the state government compensates for the difference between MSP and the price at which produce is being sold by farmers. Farmers’ leaders say that if this scheme is implemented across the country, farmers will get a lot of relief.   As far as Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees(APMC) ‘mandis’ are concerned, nowhere in the new laws is there any provision for their abolition. The new laws only provide a window for farmers to sell their crops to buyers outside the ‘mandis’ and it is up to the farmers to opt for whichever system that is offering him a better price. The new laws do not provide for abolition of ‘mandis’. They only provide ‘alternate facility’ for farmers to sell their crops. The ‘mandis’ will continue to function, but the misfortune is that those who have misled the farmers have gained an upper hand, while those who were supposed to convince the farmers, failed to do so.   I do not think Narendra Modi’s government is anti-farmer and is playing into the hands of big corporates. Let both sides join the negotiations at the earliest and the present impasse is removed. Farmers are our ‘annadatas’ (providers of food) and they provide the heft and strength to the nation, as was seen this year when the Covid-19 pandemic broke, and all industrial activity came to a standstill. Not a single person in India died of starvation nor was there any shortage of food and essential commodities, as was feared when the lockdown was announced. Hats off to our farmers.

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