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Farmers’ Protest: Fourth round of talks to be held today; Internet ban extended in Punjab, Haryana

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Haryana imposed internet restrictions till Monday. The central government should not dilly-dally and accept the demands of farmers, says Farmer leader Dallewal. Farmers plan to launch a tractor march to Delhi in the last week of February.

As the farmers’ protest at the borders of Haryana and Punjab entered the sixth day, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs extended the suspension of internet services in parts of Punjab, till February 24. This came ahead of talks between the panel of Union ministers, and farmer leaders after the previous meetings concluded with just a few assurances from the Central government on Friday. 

The fourth round of discussions is yet to be held at the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana — Chandigarh among the farmer leaders, including from the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non-Political) and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha that had called for the march, Union Agriculture and Farmer Welfare Minister Arjun Munda, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai at 6 pm.

Speaking to the reporters on Saturday, farmer leader Sarwan Singh Pandher has expressed hope of “good news” at the Sunday meeting adding that the entire country is looking to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for addressing the farmers’ demands.

“If the government wants resolution of the farmers’ protest, then it should bring an ordinance with an immediate effect that it will enact a law on MSP, then discussion can proceed further. It (Centre) can bring the ordinance overnight, if it wants to,” Pandher said.

The farmer leaders and the union leaders will meet the Union ministers for the fourth round of talks today evening, after the previous meetings held on February 8, 12 and 15 remained inconclusive.  

Meanwhile, the security measures are tightened along the Shambhu and Khanauri points of the Punjab-Haryana border. Among such measures, the layers of barricades, concrete blocks and a large number of security personnel halting their march to the national capital, the internet suspension orders were extended too. 

Centre extends Internet ban

The home ministry’s orders cited the reason to be in the “interest of maintaining public safety and averting public emergency”, under the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017, framed under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885.

Notably, according to a report by The Hindu, the Indian Telegraph Act which was introduced in the British-era, was first invoked on February 10 to block internet services in seven districts of Punjab by the Union home ministry. This marked the first time that the Centre used the Act outside of the capital city of New Delhi.

Parts of Punjab under the jurisdiction of 20 police stations will be impacted by the extension order — Shambhu, Julkan, Passian, Patran, Shatrana, Samana, Ghanour, Devigarh and Balbhera in Patiala district, Lalru in SAS Nagar, Sangat in Bathinda, Killianwali in Sri Muktsar Sahib, Sardulgarh and Boha in Mansa, Khanauri, Moonak, Lehra, Sunam, Chaji in Sangrur and Fatehgarh Sahib in Fatehgarh Sahib district.

The order was initially issued by the Manohar Lal Khattar-led Bharatiya Janata Party government, in districts of Haryana bordering Punjab. As per the announcement made on Saturday, the government extended the ban on internet and bulk SMS services in seven districts of the state till February 19. 

Meanwhile, the protesters stay put at the border sites, as per the directions from the farmer leaders. There was no report of confrontations between the protesters and Haryana security personnel on Saturday. 

What are the demands?

The primary demand of the farmers is the legal guarantee on Minimum Support Price (MSP) for agricultural commodities. 

Other demands in their charter include — the implementation of the MS  Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations for farming in India, pensions for farmers and farm laborers, farm debt waiver, and reinstatement of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013. 

The farmers have also demanded India’s withdrawal from the World Trade Organization. In addition to that, the protesters demand “justice” for the victims of the Lakhimpur Kheri violence, withdrawal of police cases, and compensation for the families of the farmers who died during a previous agitation in 2020-21.

“The government should avoid the policy of dilly-dallying and find a solution to our demands before the election code of conduct comes into force,” said farmer leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal ahead of a meeting with a panel of Union ministers here on Sunday.

“…farmers are not going to return,” he added.

The Lok Sabha election is set to be announced next month.

Speaking to the reporters, Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait said that farmers will stage sit-in protests (dharnas) in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Uttarakhand on February 21 to press their 21-point demand charter. 

He further added that a resolution was passed during the meeting asking the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) to launch a tractor march to Delhi in the last week of February if the government does not accept farmers’ demands.

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