The farmers have once again sent a strong message to the Central government that it must fulfil the commitments made, in writing on December 9, 2021 that saw the withdrawal of the unprecedented siege of the national capital.

Various farmer organisations under the umbrella of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) held a massive Mahapanchayat at the Ramlila Maidan on Monday, sending out a clear signal that the farmers’ unity remains intact and they mean business. It is clear that the farmers may have a bearing on the poll narrative ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls scheduled early next year.

The farmers reminded the government that relying on its commitments the SKM had lifted the morchas on the border of Delhi, and other protest demonstrations on December 11, 2021. “Today, over 15 months later, the Union government has not fulfilled the promises made to the farmers,” the SKM said.

Apart from the fulfilment of their pending demands to which the government had agreed, the farmers are now gearing up against the corporate control over agriculture.

The SKM has announced that it will hold state level conventions besides all India yatras to mobilise the peasantry. The farmers’ are planning to launch a spate of countrywide massive struggles to end corporate exploitation.

The speakers at the Mahapanchayat were critical of the ‘debt ridden’ central government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. They accused the government of ‘selling off farm sector, agriculture land, forests and natural resources to corporate profiteers’.

The farmers have also called for effective steps to mitigate the ever increasing debts and spiralling crisis being faced by the peasantry.

As thousands heard their leaders spell out the future course of action, a 15-member delegation of the SKM submitted a memorandum to the agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar once again listing their demands. “Some unresolved issues, unfulfilled demands call for a big stir,” warned SKM leader Darshan Pal after meeting Tomar.

Pal further said that the farmers will be forced to launch another protest if the government does not fulfil its demands, including a law on minimum support price (MSP), debt waiver and pension.

“We will convene another meeting on April 30 in Delhi. I ask all farmers unions to take out rallies in their respective states, and hold panchayats in the run-up to the meeting. We do not want to protest daily but we are forced to do so. If the government does not heed our demands, we will launch another andolan which will be bigger than the protest against the farm laws," Pal said in his address to the farmers on Monday.

Speaking to The Citizen Dr. Sunil who is the president of a farmer organisation in Madhya Pradesh said that the government will have to listen to what the farmers have to say.

“Our motive is to tell the government that we are alive. One of our main achievements is that the government in Delhi that stopped us for 380 days at the borders where more than 750 farmers died, this same government could not stop us and gave us permission to protest at the Ramlila Grounds,” he said while pointing that the farmers have been successful in breaking the arrogance of the government.

Sunil, a farmer who had come from Madhya Pradesh’s Janwada district said he owned around seven acres of land and was facing acute water crisis. “We are not in a good phase but we have to be patient. It has more to do with the government not doing anything and not paying heed to our demands,” he said.

Raju, another farmer from the same district pointed out that sustainability is a big challenge for them in the face of acute water crisis. He also wanted compensation for another piece of land that had submerged because of construction of a dam. “Farming has become a very difficult vocation. We also face housing issues,” he added.

Many women who were a part of the protest were demanding monetary compensation due to them. “We get Rs. 600 as compensation through a government scheme but for the past two months we have not received it. We are scared as it is the only source of income for us,” said Radha.

In the memorandum submitted to Tomar, the farmers have once again sought a law to guarantee MSP for all crops using the C2 + 50 percent formula based on the recommendation of the Swaminathan Commission along with enactment and implementation of assured procurement.

“The SKM has pointed out several times that the committee constituted by the Union Government on MSP and its stated agenda is contrary to the demands of the farmers. This committee should be dismissed, and a new committee on MSP only should be reconstituted with due representation of farmers by including representatives of SKM as promised by the union government,” the memorandum states.

The document further points out, “Due to rising input costs in agriculture and not receiving remunerative prices for their crops, more than 80% of the farmers are trapped under massive debt and are forced to commit suicide. In such a situation the SKM demands immediate waiver of all loans of all farmers and reduction of input prices including fertilisers.”

The farmers have also called for withdrawal of the Electricity Amendment Bill, 2022 that was referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee. They have stated, “The Union Government had given written assurance to the SKM that the Bill will be introduced in the Parliament only after discussion with it. But despite this, it introduced this Bill in Parliament without any discussion.”

They have also reiterated the demand for dismissal of union minister of state for home Ajay Mishra ‘Teni' from the Union Council of Ministers calling him ‘the main conspirator’ in the murder of four farmers and a journalist at Tikonia in Lakhimpur Kheri district. They said that Teni should be arrested and sent to jail.

The memorandum further reminds the government of fulfilling its promise of providing compensation and rehabilitation to the families of all the farmers who were ‘martyred’ during the farmers’ movement as well as the ‘martyred and injured’ farmers at Lakhimpur Kheri.

The farmers also want the government to replace the ‘ineffective and virtually abandoned’ Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana. They want implementation of a universal, comprehensive and effective crop insurance and compensation package for all crops to compensate for losses being constantly faced by farmers due to drought, flood, hailstorm, untimely and excessive rain, crop related diseases, wild animals, stray cattle etc. The farmers further want that the loss be assessed on the basis of individual plots.

Another demand listed in the memorandum is immediate implementation of a farmer pension scheme of Rs 5,000 per month for all farmers and agricultural labourers.

A major unresolved issue remains the withdrawal of the ‘fake’ cases which have been registered against the farmers during the movement. The farmers have further sought land allocation for the construction of a memorial for the martyred farmers at Singhu Morcha.

The memorandum goes on to state, “The government has brought forth Forest Conservation Rules 2022 on June 25, 2022 and has placed them before the parliament. These rules framed to implement use of forest land for non-forest purposes completely undermine the implementation of Forest Rights Act 2006. The National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has also objected to these rules. The SKM demands that these rules be immediately withdrawn.”

It has been pointed out by the farmers that a number of projects are being planned in various states at the behest of private players for corporate profit motive. “In these, the governments are not following any procedures of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013. Farmers are being threatened, even with bulldozers, to hand over their lands and accept paltry compensation. The SKM demands that all these illegalities be stopped and the process of law be followed,” the SKM has stated.

It has further mentioned to Tomar in the memorandum, “Farmers of India have long demanded the constitution of Commission for Agricultural Costs & Prices (CACP) as a statutory body with due representation of farmers organisations and independent experts. The SKM demands that this should be done immediately and the practice of arbitrarily appointing politically linked people should be stopped.”

The SKM has aired strong objections to the union government’s attack on farmers’ leadership through raids by central agencies like the Central Bureau of Investigation as was done in Punjab recently. It has sought an end to this immediately.

In speeches at the protest sites the farmers’ leaders sought compensation for farmers who have suffered huge losses due to sudden crash of market prices.

“Potato, tomato, onion and mustard farmers have suffered huge losses due to sudden crash of market prices. The government has failed to support farmers through market intervention schemes,” they said while pointing that price support schemes such as Bhavantar have been rendered ‘useless’ as they have not been implemented in this crisis.

“The government has in fact deepened the crisis by regulating export and import and no steps have been taken to help the farmers get better prices under the pretext of inflation control,” they pointed out.

The SKM submitted an additional memorandum to Tomar listing issues of critical concern.

They pointed out, “Farmers are not able to purchase tractors and farm machinery at fixed Maximum Retail Price (MRP) as in practice there is huge over charging by dealers and agencies. Crores are being looted from farmers every year. The SKM demands that the union government should compel manufacturers to publish and display MRP and make charging above MRP a criminal offence.”

Another issue listed pertains to the forceful eviction of farmers from their lands in Uttarakhand. “In Terai area of Uttarakhand, the Forest Department is forcefully evicting farmers from their lands which they have been cultivating for more than 50 years. Three generations have been tilling these lands and earning their livelihood from these lands.

“Now suddenly, without any notice, these farmers are being evicted on the fanciful plea that these lands have now been brought within forest limits. This is completely illegal and the SKM demands that this be immediately stopped,” the document states.

Raising another pressing issue, the document says, “In the districts of Punjab at the international border, on the pretext of border fencing, 70,000 acres of land have been illegally taken away from farmers.” The farmers have sought that these lands be returned to the farmers immediately.

The additional memorandum further states, “Land acquisition in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh has become a serious problem with the governments adopting completely illegal methods. In Rudrapur in Uttarakhand twenty villages are being uprooted and displaced.

“In Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh, the land allegedly acquired during the British period for the airport is now being forcefully taken possession of. Similarly in Manduri area of Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, land in nine villages is being forcefully taken over for extension of Azamgarh airport. The SKM demands that these illegal and highhanded activities be stopped immediately.”

Besides the activities under the SKM, the farmers are otherwise also actively engaged in movements at the state levels. The farmers in Maharashtra have achieved success with the state government being compelled to accede to some of the demands aired by them during a Kisan Long March from Nashik to Mumbai that had started on March 12.

A statement issued by All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) president Ashok Dhawale and general secretary Vijoo Krishnan stated, “The state government was forced to accede to most of the 15-point charter of demands. Most importantly a subsidy of Rs. 350 per quintal for onion will be given.

“It was also agreed that loans of over 88,000 farmers who did not benefit from earlier loan waivers would be waived off. A committee for ensuring forest rights was also agreed upon with two representatives of the AIKS – J P Gavit, ex-MLA and Vinod Nikole, MLA, included in it. Old-age pension and honorarium of scheme workers was increased significantly.”

The farmers had presented the government with a set of demands that mainly included remunerative prices particularly for onions and cotton, soya-bean, tur (arhar), green gram, milk etc. The March had comprised a large number of tribal peasantry who were demanding stringent implementation of the Forest Rights Act and other land rights related issues.

The other demands aired by the marchers had included a loan waiver, proper electricity supply, crop insurance, increase in old-age pensions, scheme workers wages, etc.

On March 16, an AIKS delegation had met the Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, his deputy Devendra Fadnavis and six other ministers along with several officials at the state Assembly premises in Mumbai.

The AIKS statement said that the protestors had refused to withdraw the Kisan Long March and decided to sit in at Vasind in Thane district till such time as the minutes of the decisions of this meeting were not placed on the floor of the assembly and instructions about their implementation were not sent out to all district officials.

“In the face of such a resolute decision by the AIKS, the Chief Minister was forced on March 17 to announce all the decisions in the Legislative Assembly. The AIKS has received a copy of the decisions and the government has also issued the same to the concerned authorities. In the wake of this significant victory, the Kisan Long March has been withdrawn on 18th March,” the statement added.

The farmers have claimed that the Kisan Long March of 2018 had caught the imagination of the people, and had instilled confidence in all democratic sections by forcing the then Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led state government to accept almost all the demands. In 2023, yet again the poor peasants, a large number of them tribals, with women leading from the front, forced the Shiv Sena-BJP government to accept the demands.

Ever since the success achieved by the farmers’ movement against the three controversial Farm Acts that the central government was forced to withdraw, the farmers have been vocal in airing the issues, including non agrarian ones, pertaining to the rural hinterland.

The small hill state of Himachal Pradesh recently witnessed a padyatra, or march, organised by the Himachal Kisan Sabha (HKS) in the remote Sirmaur district of the state that went through some of the most remote parts from Sanaura to Rajgarh-Nauradhar-Haripurdhar-Rohnat-Minas road. The march passed through 26 panchayats covering a distance of 114 kilometres in a week.

The farmers once again aired a long pending demand of construction of a national highway from Sanaura to Rajgarh-Nauradhar-Haripurdhar-Rohnat-Minas road from Jamli Panchayat of Jakando Panchayat of Shillai block.

According to farmers’ leader Satpal Mann the said road was constructed in 1962 and connects Himachal Pradesh with the neighbouring Uttarakhand. He said that in 2016, the union transport minister Nitin Gadkari had announced that 69 roads of the state would be made national highways, in which this road was also included.

But despite the announcement, there was no progress. Instead, according to him it has been removed from the category of state highway and was converted into a major district road.

Another leader Ramesh Verma said that this road is important from the point of view of tourism and employment. With the construction of this road, the horticulture produce, vegetables and spices produced in the entire Sirmaur district can be transported to different mandis in less time and cost which will benefit the farmers. Its construction will also open up possibilities of tourism and employment that can check the migration of the youth from the villages.

Meanwhile, Sanjay Chauhan who is the co-convener of the Sanyukt Kisan Manch that is taking up the issue pertaining to fruit growers disclosed, “On April 4, the fruit growers from the Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Kashmir will be staging a protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi to air their unresolved issues.”

He shared that the main demands of the fruit growers include a 100% hike in the import of apples, particularly from Iran, that is causing a heavy loss to the domestic apple growers and a minimum support price for the fruit produce. The other issues pertain to the goods and services tax imposed on the packaging cartons of the fruit produce and a market intervention scheme to save the grower in the event of a glut or price crash brought about artificially.