Centre sends third invite to agitating Punjab farmers for talks

Representatives from 29 farmers’ unions to meet two-member ministerial team on issues concerning contentious new farm laws

Farmers
Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar, while addressing a ‘Jal Adhikar rally’ at Narnaul City on Sunday, asked the protesting farmers to include the demand for construction of Satluj-Yamuna Link (SYL) in Punjab during talks with the Union government. .| File photo: PTI

The Centre has sent out a fresh invitation — the third in a month — to protesting Punjab farmer unions for talks with a two-member ministerial team on November 13 in Delhi. It has been more than 48 days since the farmers took to agitation against the new agricultural reforms laws.

Sudhansu Pandey, secretary, agriculture and farmers’ welfare, has written to the heads of 29 farm unions for talks with Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal.

“For the past many days, aandolan (agitation) is going on in Punjab on farmer-related subjects. The Department of Agriculture is always concerned towards the issues and welfare of farmers. At the same time, even the Railways is keen to provide smooth services in Punjab. In order to discuss your issues, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Union Railways Minister Piyush Goyal invite you for a meeting,” said the letter, drafted in Hindi, and sent to presidents or general secretaries of the farmer organisations.

Also read: Farmers’ protests cause ₹210 crore loss to Railways; NHAI takes ₹11-cr hit

Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal) president Balbir Singh Rajewal said farmers’ organisations have received the invitation. “We are always open to talks. The central government, however, took too long to invite us on a proper platform,” said Rajewal.

Representatives of the 29 farmer outfits will be meeting on November 12 in Chandigarh to decide on the composition of their team for the Delhi meeting. “We need to decide who will be our spokespersons and what agenda we will present before the ministers. We want to be very specific,” said Dr Darshan Pal, president, Kirti Kisan Union.

“Let’s see what comes out of this meeting. Farm laws affect the whole country, not just Punjab. We hope that Punjab farmers will take the lead in getting justice for crores of farmers,” said Jagmohan Singh Patiala, general secretary of BKU Dakaunda.

While Punjab BJP chief Ashwani Sharma welcomed the decision of the Centre, Surjit Kumar Jyani, the chairman of eight-member BJP panel formed to reach out to farmers, said, “We are hopeful that a positive decision will come out before Diwali and farmers will end their sit-ins and trains will be back on tracks in Punjab.”

Also read: Rail roko: Punjab faces acute fertiliser, power shortage, suffers ₹40,000 cr loss

The Centre and the Punjab government are locked in a stalemate over resumption of train services in the state, suspended since September 24, when farmers started their “rail roko” agitation. While farmers claim to have lifted their dharnas from rail tracks for the resumption of freight trains, the Centre says they will either run both the goods and the passengers trains or none. They have also demanded an assurance of safety and security for trains and the staff.

This is the third time the Centre has invited the farmers for talks. The first invitation came for a meeting on October 8 which was rejected by the farmers. That meeting had been called to inform the farmers about reforms being brought about through three agriculture laws.

A second meeting was called on October 14, which was chaired by agriculture secretary  Sanjay Agarwal. Representatives of several farmers’ organisations from Punjab had walked out of the meeting and had accused the government of adopting “double standards” with no minister present to hear them.

Meanwhile, more than 250 farmer outfits from across country, under the banner of All India Kisan Sangrash Coordination committee, said their next programme of ‘Delhi Chalo’ is scheduled for November 26-27.

Punjab farmers have expressed fears that the new laws would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the “mercy” of big corporates.

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