Demand restoration of Internet and de-escalation of tensions ahead of talks.
Leaders of the agitating farmers on January 31 asserted that the unions would not take the initiative to resume dialogue with the government till such the time as the Centre created a conducive atmosphere for talks. The leaders also demanded that the government restore the Internet services at the protest sites, lift the barricades and de-escalate the tension to create the right atmosphere for the talks.
The demands came as the police stepped up security at the three sit-in sites around Delhi, closely guarding entry to the sites even as the number of protesting farmers swelled through the day.
In a related development, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has called an all-party meeting on February 2 to evolve a consensus on the way forward on the issue of the farm laws and the farmers’ agitation in the light of the recent developments in Delhi. In an official statement, Captain Amrinder said the crisis can be tackled effectively and the farmers’ interests be protected only through the collective efforts of all Punjabis and the political parties of the State.
Responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement at an all-party meeting that the proposal to suspend the three farm laws for 18 months still stood, Buta Singh Burj Gill, head of a Bharatiya Kisan Union faction in Punjab said that “Prime Minister had spoken on the three farm laws for the first time saying that suspension of laws was a good proposal and talks must resume. We too are ready for talks, but the government must de-escalate the situation, restore Internet services, lift the barricades and stop attacks at the sit-in sites.”
Addressing a press conference, Mr. Gill said the farmers were holding peaceful demonstration, but the government seemed hell bent on vitiating the atmosphere and had snapped the water supply and Internet services, besides putting barricades on both sides at the Singhu border. On Mr. Modi’s offer that government was just a phone call away, Mr. Gill added that there was so far no official communication to the farmer leaders on the resumption of talks, and the unions would not take the initiative till the government created a conducive atmosphere.
He also informed that the farmer unions had identified 163 people who were in police custody in connection with the violence during the Republic Day and had set-up a committee to provide legal aid to them. Mr. Gill added that many people taking part in the tractor rally were still untraced and accused the Union government and the police of not co-operating with the farmer unions to find their whereabouts. He said the committee would also investigate this and a clearer picture would emerge in a couple of days.
Earlier, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, responding to Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar’s tweets on the three farm laws, said the tweets were a mix of “ignorance and misinformation”.
In a series of tweets, the Minister countered Mr. Pawar, saying the “new laws facilitate promotion of additional choice channel for farmers with choice to sell their produce to anyone, anywhere with hassle free movement in & outside the State to realize competitive & better net price for their produce”.