The conglomerate of farmer and farm labour bodies, which are leading the “rail roko” agitation in Punjab, seem to be caught in a Catch-22 situation following the meeting with chief minister Parkash Singh Badal.
With the government showing its inability to meet the main demands of protesting farmers without help from the Centre, the farmer leaders stand divided over the next step.
Sources say that while some of the farm unions are now in favour of ending the agitation, accepting whatever has been offered by the government, there are some which want the agitation to continue till protesters are removed by force by the government from the rail tracks.
The CM, sources said, kept a conciliatory stance all through the meeting and his open offer to do whatever the state government could for the farmers seems to have won over some of the more moderate elements among the representatives.
The meeting also brought to the fore different concerns of various bodies, divided loosely into those representing cotton growers, basmati growers and farm labourers, sources added.
The cotton growers insisted on the hike in compensation for damage to their crop due to the whitefly attack. “But when the government said there was no way it could agree to pay Rs 40,000 per acre as compensation, a host of the leaders understood that their demand was highly unrealistic,” said an officer who attended the meeting.
Badal insisted that the Punjab government had given the highest compensation in the country for cases of crop damage due to pests.
Over the issue of payment of compensation to labourers, the CM offered that Rs 64 crore be set aside for it. “This seemed to have assuaged various farm labour unions and they seemed happy with the outcome,” the officer added.
The leaders also asked the government to cancel police cases against agitating farmers and farm labourers, while demanding compensation for 22 persons who were injured during a farmers’ agitation in Bathinda. The CM agreed to look into both demands.
Akali-BJP delegation to meet PM on farm crisis
Earlier in the day, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal called for a meeting with state BJP leaders to seek their opinion on the farm crisis in the state and the possible solutions. “Cabinet minister Madan Mohan Mittal and former minister Tikshan Sud attended the meeting, among others.
The BJP has extended all possible cooperation to the chief minister over the issue, including holding a joint meeting of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan leaders with the Prime Minister to seek enhanced compensation for the whitefly attack on the cotton crop,” said state BJP chief Kamal Sharma. “Decisions such as procurement of basmati 1121 and increase in compensation to cotton growers can only be taken by the Centre.
For that, we have asked farmers to accompany us for a meeting with the PM,” said Akali MP Prem Singh Chandumajra. Meanwhile, during the meeting with farmers, the CM also decided to bring in a legislation to reduce rural indebtedness and also formed a committee to bring about land ownership rights reforms in the state.
Demands not met by state govt
Payment of Rs 40,000 per acre for cotton damage to cultivators
Payment of Rs 20,000 per acre for cotton damage to labourers
Procurement of basmati 1121 at Rs 5,000 per quintal
Farmers’ demands partially/fully met by Govt
Nine govt sugar mills have paid cane growers Rs 540 crore
Seven private sugar mills have released Rs 988 crore; Rs 135 crore to be released by pvt sugar mills
Payment of Rs 295 per quintal to cane growers for 2015-16
Disbursal of Rs 644 crore as compensation to cotton farmers
DCs told to compensate actual cultivators for cotton crop loss
1509 basmati procured at minimum support price
Immediate disbursal of`3 lakh to kin of farmers who committed suicide
Compensation for damage to vegetables and fruits.