A meeting of 30 protesting farmers' groups from Punjab with the government regarding the contentious farm bills ended abruptly today over the absence of the Union minister for agriculture Narendra Singh Tomar. The Centre had called the meeting and the farmers' groups had finally decided yesterday that they would attend.
The meeting was attended by the agriculture secretary, but the farmers demanded the presence of the minister.
Upset over his absence, the farmers started raising slogans inside the ministry and tore up copies of the contentious farm laws. They also said their agitation against the new laws will continue.
The farmers' groups -- which have been on warpath for months over the new farm bills -- decided at a meeting in Chandigarh yesterday to enter discussions with the Centre. Backed by the opposition parties, including the Congress, they have been demanding that the new laws be scrapped.
The biggest of these groups, the Bharatiya Kisan Union, or BKU (Ugrahan), which did not attend yesterday's meeting, had also decided to join forces at today's talks.
"No proper discussion took place. Neither Union agriculture minister nor junior ministers were present to hear our concerns. We asked why the minister is not meeting us, why the government is playing double standards by calling us here and ministers holding virtual meetings in Punjab. There was no proper response," Darshan Pal, member of the coordination committee of 29 farmers'' organisations, told PTI after the meeting.
Since there was no response from Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agrawal, who was chairing the meeting, farmers' organisations decided to boycott the meeting, he said.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and opposition Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal said it was "insult" to farmers that the Central ministers skipped the meeting.
"Farmers' betrayal by GoI is shocking. Backstabbing & playing games with Annadata hurts national interest. Calling farm leaders to Delhi for talks & sending NDA ministers to Pb to prove how wrong farmers are exposed centre's doublespeak & nefarious hypocrisy," Sukhbir Badal tweeted.
Under the new laws, the farmers are allowed to sell produce anywhere in the country and deal directly with big corporates -- a situation that the farmers have found alarming.
Most feel they would be left at the mercy of the corporates and with the phasing out of agricultural wholesale APMC markets, will not get even the Minimum Support Price for their produce.
The Centre, which counts the laws among is big ticket farm sector reforms, says they would free the farmers from the clutches of the middlemen and usher in new farming technology.