The centre has agreed to meet representatives from 31 farmers unions who have been protesting against the controversial farm laws since early September. To be held on Friday, the meeting will be the first between the two sides since protests began and will be attended by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Railways Minister Piyush Goyal and Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar.
Invitations to the representatives have been sent. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has welcomed the decision and urged farmers to lift their blockade of passenger trains in the state. Farmers will still protest, though, at locations away from the tracks and near highway toll plazas.
Vociferous agitations against the farm laws – which Prime Minister Narendra Modi has hailed as “historic”, but critics feel will do away with MSPs and affect small and marginal farmers – had seen tractor rallies, blocked highways and rail rokos at more than two dozen locations across the state.
The rail blockade has led to losses to the state economy worth Rs 22,000 crore, minister Sunder Sham Arora told news agency PTI. The Railways has suffered an estimated Rs 1,200 crore loss.
Last week the Chief Minister also wrote to JP Nadda, the President of the ruling BJP to warn against “critical shortage” of essential winter supplies for soldiers in Ladakh and Kashmir.
Following talks between the farmers and the state, protesters last week agreed to allow “regular” freight train movement at 21 locations across the state. The Railways, pressed to restart service, declined to do so, saying it wanted to restart freight and passenger services simultaneously.
A brief spat ensued with the state government accused of “misguiding” the Railways.
Railway Board chairman VK Yadav said 100 per cent security clearance was needed from the Punjab government for all trains to resume operations.
The set of three farm laws – cleared by parliament after shocking chaotic scenes – have been met with protests across the country.
Apart from fears it will remove MSPs (a source of credit in hard times like droughts and crop failure), critics say the laws leave small and marginal farmers at the mercy of corporates and private players.
The government says by removing barriers to inter- and intra-state trade of farm and agricultural produce, it is empowering farmers to sell their goods at markets and prices of their choice.
Last month Punjab became the first state to formally reject and counter the farm laws; the Assembly passed three bills – each of which is designed to counter one of the centre’s laws.
One allows authorities to impose fine and a jail term of not less than three years on any individual who buys, or sells, wheat or paddy below the government-mandated MSP.
Since then, Congress-ruled Rajasthan has passed similar bills.