Farmer unions from Punjab, which have been agitating against the central farm laws, on Wednesday said they will hold street protests against the coronavirus lockdown on May 8 in the state and urged people to defy the restrictions.
Addressing a press conference at the Singhu border protest site, farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal alleged the government has imposed a lockdown to hide its failure to handle the coronavirus situation and wants to weaken the ongoing farmers’ movement.
He was speaking on behalf of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of farmer unions that is spearheading the agitation against the Centre’s three agri-marketing laws.
“The 32 farmer unions of Punjab have decided to protest against the lockdown on May 8 (in Punjab) where our field workers will come out on the streets and ask people to open their shops and not follow the lockdown,” Singh said.
Like several other states reeling from the COVID-19 surge, Punjab has imposed extensive curbs, in addition to measures like a weekend lockdown and night curfew till May 15.
“The three black farm laws were also made during the lockdown last year. Lockdown is no solution. It only results in losses to the economy and unemployment. This government is just hiding its failures under the garb of lockdown—like how they have failed in providing oxygen, beds and other medical facilities to patients,” Rajewal claimed.
The 78-year-old leader said that he would also push for a “nationwide protest against lockdown” in the next meeting with the SKM leaders.
Meanwhile, over a thousand farmers on Wednesday headed towards the Delhi borders from Beas, a town near Amritsar, to join those protesting against the farm laws.
Kisan Sangharsh Committee State secretary Gurbachan Singh Chabba said he, along with other farmer leaders, including Sawan Singh Pandher, has set off for the national capital with the group, which includes women and children.
He said farmers assembled at Beas from different villages of Amritsar, Tarn Taran and Gurdaspur districts in Punjab.
Farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have been camping at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur, with their main demands being the complete repeal of the three farm laws and a legal guarantee for the minimum support price on their crops.
So far, there have been 11 rounds of talks between the protesting unions and the government, but the deadlock has continued as both sides have stuck to their stand.
In January, the government had offered to suspend the farm laws for 12-18 months, which was rejected by the farmer unions.
The Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the laws till further orders and set up a committee to resolve the impasse.
The SKM leader on Wednesday also urged people to join the farmers’ protest to strengthen the movement.
“Since the harvesting season is almost over, we are asking at least one family member of farmers and farm labourers to come and join us in the protest. We expect a large number of people coming from May 10 onwards,” he added.
The farmer leader said they are always ready for dialogue but the government has to “stop maligning the farmers” and initiate the talks with “good intentions and in a good environment”.
The Centre says the new farm laws will free farmers from middlemen, giving them more options to sell their crops.
The protesting farmers, however, say the laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of MSP and do away with the “mandi” (wholesale market) system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.