India farmers intensify protests as deadlock over new laws continues

India farmers intensify protests as deadlock over new laws continue
Farmers listen to a speaker during a protest against the newly passed farm bills at Singhu border near New Delhi, India, December 9, 2020. Reuters

New Delhi: Leaders of agitating farmer unions are holding a one-day hunger strike on Monday and have ramped up protests in all district headquarters to press their demand for the repeal of the new farm laws.

Addressing a press conference at the Singhu border, farmer leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni said the leaders will observe the hunger strike at their respective places between 8 AM to 5 PM on Monday.

Also dharnas will be staged at all district headquarters across the country. The protest will go on as usual," he told reporters.

Earlier, a legion of protesters headed for Delhi blocking the key Delhi-Jaipur national highway were stopped by police on Haryana-Rajasthan border.

Even more farmers from Punjab and other states arrived near the Singhu and Tikri borders to join the sit-in which has been continuing for 18 days.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said he too will observe a day-long fast on Monday and appealed to the central government to shun ego and scrap the legislation.

A group of protesting farmers vacated carriageways on the Noida-Delhi Link Road via Chilla following a late-night meeting with Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Narendra Tomar, but Chaduni alleged that they were hand-in-glove with the government.

There are groups that are ending protest and saying they are in favour of laws passed by the government. We want to clarify that they are not associated with us. They have been hand-in-glove with the government, they conspired to sabotage our protest. The government is hatching a conspiracy to derail the ongoing farmers' protest," Chaduni alleged.

India farmers intensify protests as deadlock over new laws continue
Farmers keep themselves warm around a bonfire during their sit-in protest against the Centre's farm reform laws, near Ghazipur border in New Delhi, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. Photo: PTI/Manvender Vashist

While the farmers have warned of intensifying the stir in coming days amid a deadlock in talks, several Union Ministers have repeatedly alleged that the farmers' protests have been hijacked by Maoists, Leftists and anti-national elements, a charge denied by the union leaders spearheading the agitation.

The government has been mulling ways to reach out to the farmers more effectively and on Sunday Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Union Minister Som Parkash, accompanied by BJP leaders from Punjab, met Home Minister Amit Shah.

The government will find "some solution" to end the deadlock. "We have full confidence. In the next meeting, the issue will be resolved," Union Minister Kailash Choudhary said.

Five rounds of talks have failed to end the stalemate and the sixth was cancelled on December 9.

Tomar and Parkash, along with their ministerial colleague Piyush Goyal, have led the government's negotiations with the protesting farmers.

Tomar hit out at the opposition parties accusing them of running propaganda against the new farm laws and asserted that these laws "may cause difficulty for some in the short term" but will be beneficial to farmers in the long run.

In Punjab, Deputy Inspector General (Prisons) Lakhminder Singh Jakhar said he has resigned from the service in support of the protesting farmers.

Earlier, Akali Dal stalwart and former Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and SAD (Democratic) leader Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa had also announced they would return their Padma awards.

Several international sportspersons from Punjab had also extended their support to the farmers' agitation.

Farmer leader Shiv Kumar Kakka alleged that "government agencies have been stopping farmers from reaching Delhi, but the protest will continue till their demands are met".

India farmers intensify protests as deadlock over new laws continue
Farmers during their sit-in protest against the Centre's farm reform laws, near Ghazipur border in New Delhi, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. Photo: PTI/Manvender Vashist

Police said that prohibitory orders had been imposed in Rewari on the Haryana-Rajasthan border and barricades put up to stop the protesters from Rajasthan and other places from going to Delhi.

The protesters, who marched through Behror, Shajahapur and Kotputli regions in Rajasthan, on Sunday squatted on the Delhi-Jaipur National Highway at Jaisinghpur Kheda area along Rajasthan-Haryana border (NH-48), over 70 km from Gurugram and 80 km from Delhi.

Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav, activists Aruna Roy and Medha Patkar and CPM leader Amra Ram also reached Shajahapur along with farmers. However, the police did not allow them to move forward.

'We are sitting on the highway in support of farmers. We are ready to vacate the highway if we are allowed to march towards Delhi. We apologise to people for the inconvenience caused to them," Yadav told reporters.

President of Kisan Panchayat Rampal Chaudhary said they continuing to protest along with farmers on the Haryana-Rajasthan border highway as police did not allow them to move forward.

Farmers affiliated to different farmer organisations are reaching Shahjahapur border. We want the government to repeal farm laws for which we want to march towards Delhi," said Chaudhary.

We do not have any intention to block the highway. Police have stopped us from marching towards, which has led to jam. We want the Centre to withdraw anti-farmer laws," Amra Ram said.

Due to the blockade, vehicular traffic on Jaipur-Delhi national highway had to be diverted through Bansur and other routes of Alwar, police said.

One-way traffic from Delhi to Jaipur was later plying but Jaipur-Delhi highway road is blocked due to the agitation, they said.

Police is prepared for maintaining law and order and have made all arrangements in view of the farmers' agitation," Bhiwadi Superintendent of Police Ram Murti Joshi said.

Officials said normal traffic resumed between Noida and Delhi via Chilla border after farmers vacated the spot they had been occupying since December 1 for their sit-in demonstration.

The protest, however, continued at the border with some Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu) members, including their chief Thakur Bhanu Pratap Singh, staying put at Chilla.

The protestors have gathered at the Noida border and want to proceed to Delhi to join the bigger stir called by farmers from Punjab and Haryana.

India farmers intensify protests as deadlock over new laws continue
Farmers during their sit-in protest against the Centre's farm reform laws, near Ghazipur border in New Delhi, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. Photo: PTI/Manvender Vashist

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear on December 16 a plea seeking a direction to authorities to immediately remove the farmers who are protesting at several border points of Delhi against three new farm laws, saying commuters are facing hardships due to the road blockades and the gatherings might lead to an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.

According to the apex court website, a bench of Chief Justice S A Bobde and justices A S Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian will hear the plea filed by law student Rishabh Sharma, who has also sought directions to authorities to open the roads at Delhi's borders, shift the protesters to the allotted place and provide guidelines on social distancing and use of masks at the protest site to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, are currently staying put at Delhi's borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh in protest against the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

They have expressed apprehension that these laws would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the "mercy" of big corporations.

However, the government has maintained that the new laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture.

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