Amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar Saturday appealed to the farmers protesting at Delhi borders to call off their long-running agitation, saying the government is ready for a discussion whenever they come with a concrete proposal.
Thousands of farmers have been protesting against the three new agri-marketing laws for nearly five months now, braving the raging pandemic. There has been no headway in the logjam over the issue since January 22, when the 11th and the last round of formal talks happened between the Central government and the protesting farmer unions.
Tomar expressed concerns about the farmers’ health and wellbeing as India witnessed a record surge of over 1.45 lakh coronavirus cases on Saturday.
“Now in the second wave of pandemic, the entire nation and the world is following COVID-19 protocols. Even protesting farmers should follow the protocols. Their life is important for us,” Tomar said.
In the current COVID-19 situation, I urge them (agitating farmers) to call off their protest. The government is ready for a discussion whenever they come with a proposal,” he told reporters.
Stating that there is no “dissatisfaction” among the farming community across the country over the new farm laws, the minister said many farm bodies in fact are in the favour these legislations, while some are opposing them.
“Ours is a democratic country, be it farmers or citizens, if they have any doubt, the government believes it is its responsibility is to clear doubts and find a solution,” he said.
The minister said the three laws were not drafted all of a sudden, but there was a long discussion in the past and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken it forward, he said.
He said that normally any protest continues if the government is not ready for talks. But this government has held with open heart 11 rounds of discussion with representatives of protesting farm unions, yet their agitation did not stop, he said.
In these meetings, the government had identified their concerns and offered them a proposal to suspend the laws for 1.5 years and set up a committee to examine them.
“We proposed that a committee be set up to look into these laws and the MSP (issue) also. After the committee submits its report, the government will discuss. This proposal was welcomed across the country, but the protesting farmers rejected it without citing any reason,” he said.
Farmers could have resumed their protest had they found the proposed committee’s recommendations unsatisfactory, he added.
“We had told farm unions to come up with their own proposal and we were ready for discussion on that also,” the minister said, asserting the government is ready for talks even today.
Tomar reiterated that he had appealed to the farmer unions in all 11 rounds of meetings to send back senior citizens and children from the protest sites in view of the pandemic.
The minister also said the agitating farmers should understand that ordinary citizens are facing difficulty due to their sit-in protest at the border.
India reported a record 1,45,384 fresh cases Saturday, pushing the tally to 1,32,05,926.
The number of active cases also breached the 10-lakh mark again after around six-and-a-half months, while the death toll due to the viral disease has gone up to 1,68,436 with 794 more fatalities, the highest since October 18 last year.