A day before the government’s eighth round of talks with protesting farm unions, thousands of farmers are participating in a tractor rally on the Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways Thursday in a “rehearsal” for 26 January, when they will move into the National Capital from Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

The tractor rally began on Thursday morning on the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway in Haryana as well as the Western Peripheral Expressway, which starts at Ghaziabad and ends in Noida. The farmers will then return on the same route. The police have asked people to avoid this expressway. Security along the stretch was also tightened.

The tractor rally is being organised by Sanyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella of 40 farmer unions. The tractor rally was initially planned for Tuesday. However, bad weather forced the farmers to defer the rally by a day.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Centre to reply within two weeks on the measures undertaken to stop the spread of COVID-19 at the protest sites.

Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have been camping out on roads around the capital, New Delhi, for over 40 days, braving the bitter cold and continuous rain over the last few days. They insist that the government withdraw the laws and guarantee a minimum support price for their produce.

The seventh round of talks between protesting farm unions and the Centre ended in a stalemate as the farmer leaders stuck to their demand seeking repeal of the three contentious farm laws, even as the government listed various benefits that can be availed from the legislations. The next meeting will take place on 8 January.

Punjabi music, rousing slogans take over roads at Singhu border

A cacophony of rumbling engines, Punjabi tunes and rousing slogans filled the air as rows of tractors took over the roads at the Singhu border for the protest march by farmers on Thursday.

The tractor march started from four different points — Singhuto Tikri Border, Tikri to Kundli, Ghazipurto Palwal and Rewasan to Palwal.

“The government has been hosting meeting after meeting. They know what we want. We want the laws to be repealed, but all we get are futile talks. With this rally, we want to give them a glimpse of what we can do, and what we will do on January 26.

“Today the rally is happening on the periphery of Delhi, but when our farmer leaders decide that we need to enter the capital, we will do that,” said Harjinder Singh from Punjab’s Hoshiarpur.

Perched on their tractors, protesting farmers moved out of the protest site, and speakers on their vehicles belted out music keeping their spirits high. Some of the tractors participating in the march were seen with national flags.

Other protestors lined the path providing their fellow farmers with all kinds of supplies, including peanuts, fritters, tea, and newspapers.

“We are the sons of the soil. If the laws are passed, we will starve to death. This rally is our way of telling the government that we will not give up unless it gives in to our demands,” said Jaspal Singh Deol from Punjab’s Chamkaur Sahib.

According to Navpal Singh from Jalandhar, the rally was a show of farmers’ might and strength.

“This rally is to show the government our strength and number and educate people of the country about what we are doing, and why we are doing it.

SC expresses concern over large gathering of farmers during COVID-19

The Supreme Court Thursday asked the Centre whether the farmers protesting against the new farm laws at Delhi borders are protected against the spread of COVID-19 and said that the guidelines to contain the virus should be followed.

The apex court was hearing a plea seeking various reliefs including CBI probe into the matter related to assembly of people at Anand Vihar Bus Terminal and the Tablighi Jamaat congregation at Nizammudin Markaz in the national capital after the nationwide lockdown was announced last year to contain the pandemic.

“You must tell us what is happening. The same problem is going to arise in farmers’ agitation. I do not know if farmers are protected from COVID. So, the same problem is going to arise. It is not that everything is over”, said Chief Justice SA Bobde, who was heading the bench which also comprised Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.

The top court asked Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing for the Centre, whether protesting farmers are protected from COVID-19. Mehta replied, Certainly not.

Mehta said that he will file a report within two weeks on what has been done and what needs to be done.

Haryana farmers’ group meets Narendra Singh Tomar

A farmer group from Haryana met Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, seeking their participation in the eighth round of talks to be held on Friday and said it wants to raise the long-pending Sutlej Yamuna Link (SYL) Canal issue.

Separately, Punjab’s Nanaksar Gurudwara head Baba Lakha, a renowned religious leader of the state, also met Tomar in Delhi and discussed the issues related to farmers’ protest.

The representation made by Haryana Yuva Kisan Sagarsh Samithi (HYKSS), headed by former MLA Naresh Yadav Ateli, however, focussed on the SYL issue.

A delegation of 20 farmers reached the national capital by walking for over 130 kms from Ateli town in Mahendragarh district for eight days from 30 December.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Ateli said, “I told the minister that you are inviting farmers’ leaders for the 8 January meeting. Please invite our 11 members as well. We are also farmers and want to raise the SYL canal issue.”

While the SYL Canal issue is 45-years old, the protest over new farm laws is a recent development, he said, adding the government should give priority to settle the SYL canal issue with the Punjab government. The HYKSS President said the issue has been raised with the Union Jal Shakti Ministry as well.

Asked if there was a discussion on new farm laws in the meeting, he said, “Our main demand is water because there cannot be farming without water. Farm laws have come now. The SYL issue is very old.”

On the farm laws, Ateli said, “Politics is happening on this issue… If any farmers’ leaders or political parties say that the laws are not good, then they should come up with proper proof. If the laws are wrong, then what is right?”

Asked if HYKSS supports the new laws, he said, “My fight is on water. I have not gone into details of the new laws. Laws are passed in Parliament, they will end their only. That is the work of Parliament.”

He also mentioned that ongoing protest at Delhi borders is causing inconvenience to the public due to the road jam.

Govt has lost trust of entire farming community, says SAD leader

SAD leader and former Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal on Thursday said the Centre has lost the trust of the entire farming community and Prime Minister Narendra Modi should directly talk to agitating farmers.

Expressing her anguish over the pain of farmers, Badal, leader of the ruling BJP’s erstwhile ally, said, “It is strange that farmers are spending nights in open during the chilling winters and even then their demands are falling on deaf ears.”

In an interview to PTI, Badal who resigned from Union Cabinet in September last year when the three farm bills were being passed in Lok Sabha, said what farmers have gone through in last six-seven weeks, is the same what she went through when she was a Union Minister.

“…To avoid the situation which has arisen now and the protest, I kept pleading for months, whether it was in cabinet meetings or indirect meetings with top leaders of the central government that please listen to farmers before bringing these three bills as they are ‘annadaatas‘ of the country, otherwise it would lead to agitations and protests. But my all pleas fell on to deaf ears,” she said.

Asking who will be held responsible for deaths of farmers during the protest, Badal said the Centre has lost the trust of farmers across the country.

“Farmers are dying at the doorstep of the central government while protesting for their demands. Who will be responsible for deaths of ‘annadaatas‘ of the country?” Badal said.

Talking about the ongoing meetings between protesting farmers and Centre, Badal said after seven rounds of meetings nothing concrete has come out.

“After several rounds of meetings if ministers are unable to resolve the farmers’ issues then Prime Minister Narendra Modi should directly talk to protesting farmers,” Badal said.

She also attacked the Congress-led Punjab government and state chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and said he has failed to fulfil his responsibility as guardian of the state and its people.

“Both the central and state governments are equal partners in this crime against farmers. While farmers were sitting on dharna, the Chief Minister of Punjab was having fun in his farmhouse. Captain Amarinder Singh has miserably failed to fulfil his responsibilities as chief minister of Punjab and as guardian of its people,” Badal said.

With inputs PTI

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