Dissecting government’s letter to Agitating Farmers

The second demand was withdrawal of cases against the farmers booked during the nearly 15-month-long agitation.
Farmers Protest

New Delhi, Dec 10 : After receiving a letter from the government promising to meet the farmers‘ demands, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) on Thursday declared to return home after suspending its agitation on Saturday, albeit with a rider that a review meeting would be convened on January 15.

The government’s letter, signed by Sanjay Agrawal, Secretary, Department of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, was finalised after the farmers suggested additions/deletions over two drafts. However, there are certain gaps between the demands raised by the farmers after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced to repeal the three contentious farm laws and those promised by the government.

Although it gives the impression that both parties have climbed down on certain issues, experts said the main issue of farm laws repeal has historic ramification and that when issues such as MSP will take time to evolve and resolve, the content of the letter should not be held against the farmers.

To start with, Modi had on November 19 promised to form a committee to discuss all farm-related issues, including the Minimum Support Price (MSP). The farmers had then declined to accept it and declared that their agitation would continue till the time a law ensures MSP for all farmers and for all produce.

The letter on Thursday promised to form a committee, which will include farmers’ representatives, and one of the mandates would be to derive how to ensure that farmers get MSP, and the status quo will continue for MSP procurement as of now.

The second demand was withdrawal of cases against the farmers booked during the nearly 15-month-long agitation.

Agrawal claimed that the governments of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana — all BJP ruled states incidentally — have agreed to withdraw all such cases with immediate effect.

He also promised that cases lodged by the Centre’s related departments and agencies and by the administrations of Delhi and all the Union Territories would be withdrawn with immediate effect too.

“The government of India will appeal to the other states to withdraw similar cases too,” the Secretary assured.

The letter mentioned that Uttar Pradesh and Haryana governments have given in principle agreement to pay compensation to the farmers (assumed to be the same as mentioned by the SKM in its letters — for those who lost their lives during the more than a year of agitation) and that the government of Punjab has already made a public announcement regarding the same.

Incidentally, earlier last week, the government had told the Lok Sabha that it does not have any data related to farmers’ deaths and hence there was no question of paying compensation to anyone.

Agrawal also promised to hold a meeting of all the stakeholders on the issue of power bills impacting the farmers, only after which the Electricity Bill would be introduced.

On the issue of decriminalising stubble burning, the letter said that the provisions are already in place in the law already passed (Commission for Air Quality Management law).

Stating that the above five assurances are enough to meet the long-pending demands of the farmers, the letter said, “There seems to be no reason to continue the agitation. Hence the farmers are requested to end it.”

The letter, however, did not find any mention of the issue of removal of Union Minister of State for Home, Ajay Mishra Teni, whose son was allegedly involved in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence of October 3.

Agriculture expert Devinder Sharma said, “One cannot disregard the fact that the farmers’ agitation has ensured repeal of the three farm laws. It is akin to the pulling down of the Berlin Wall. Had that not happened, the farmers would have been at the mercy of the corporates. The farmers have pulled down the market edifice.”

Citing examples from the US and Canada where prices of wheat have come down seven times and six times compared to those in 1860s, respectively, he said, “Only 1.5 per cent people are farmers in the US and even those are saddled with bankruptcy to the tune of $425 billion. What our farmers have achieved will have global ramifications. The message is loud and clear that only guaranteed MSP can make it viable.”

To a question whether the committee proposed by the government on MSP and other issues will bring about an acceptable solution given the track record of the government, Sharma said, “We all are keeping our fingers crossed.”

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