Amid protests over agri laws, PM to meet farmers in Kutch on Tuesday

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AHMEDABAD: Amid the ongoing protest by farmers on Delhi borders against the Centre’s new agri laws, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet members of the farming community, including Sikh cultivators in Gujarat, during a visit to Kutch district on Tuesday.

Modi will be at Dhordo in Kutch to lay the foundation stones for several projects coming up in different parts of the border district, an official statement said on Monday.

These projects include the world’s largest hybrid renewable energy park, a desalination plant and a milk chilling plant.

Before the main event, the PM, who will be on a day- long visit to his home state, will hold discussions with farmers of Kutch district at the venue.

A group of Sikh farmers, settled in areas near the Indo-Pak border, has been invited for an interaction with the PM, said a release by the state government’s Information Department.

As per a rough estimate, around 5,000 Sikh families reside in and around Lakhpat taluka of Kutch district.

Sikhs started settling in Lakhpat after the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri urged citizens to settle in this barren patch of land after the 1965 India-Pakistan war.

Over the last several days, farmers, most of them from Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting outside Delhi against the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020.

Enacted in September, the three farm laws have been projected by the government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove the middlemen and allow farmers to sell anywhere in the country.

However, the protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of Minimum Support Price (MSP) and do away with the mandis, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.

The Centre has repeatedly sought to allay fears over the new farm laws and asserted there will be no tinkering with the existing MSP regime.

Farmer leaders on Monday went on a daylong hunger strike and their colleagues demonstrated in different parts of the country to push for a rollback of the new farm laws, as Union minister Rajnath Singh said there is no question of the government ever taking any ‘retrograde step’ against the agriculture sector.

On Day 19 of the protest at Delhi’s border points when agriculturalists from multiple states in the north intensified their movement, particularly at Delhi’s gateways, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government is engaging with them to decide on the next date of talks, deadlocked after five rounds.

“The meeting will definitely happen. We are engaging with farmers,” Tomar told PTI amid a flurry of meetings in the national capital to discuss the future course of action and separate groups meeting him and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.

The government is ready for discussion anytime and farmer leaders have to “decide and convey” when they are ready for the next meeting, added Tomar, who is leading the negotiations with 40 farmer unions along with Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce and Industries Som Parkash.

With the movement picking up pace at Delhi’s doorstep, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal joined in the fast too, describing the legislations as “anti-farmer and anti-common man”.

He joined AAP leaders, MLAs and volunteers at the party office for the hunger strike.

Keeping the door open for negotiations, Rajnath Singh described agriculture as a “mother sector” and also said the government is always willing to listen to farmers.

Addressing the annual general meeting of industry chamber FICCI, Singh said the recent reforms were undertaken with the best interests of farmers in mind.

“There is no question of taking retrograde steps against our agricultural sector ever. We are, however, always willing to listen to our farmer brothers, allay their misgivings and provide them with assurances,” he said.

Farmers did not appear to be mollified.

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