Approached by Centre to join panel proposed by PM Modi: SKM

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New Delhi: The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), a platform of protesting farm unions, on Tuesday said a Union government official reached out to one of its leaders, requesting the names of five people who could represent farmers on a committee proposed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to look into issues related to cultivation and minimum support prices (MSPs).

Farm unions may decide to participate in the committee if it is a “concrete” step towards guaranteeing prices of agricultural produce, farm leader Gurnam Singh Charuni said on Tuesday. If this happens, it could be a breakthrough in the deadlock between tens of thousands of protesting farmers and the Union government.

“The SKM confirms that there was a telephone call from the Government of India to a Punjab farmer union leader, wherein the government wanted five names to be suggested from SKM’s side for a committee,” the farmers’ platform said in a statement.

Charuni, a leader of the ongoing farmers’ movement against the Modi government’s policies, said farm unions may consider joining the proposed committee if it was “timebound” and its “intention” was to ensure profitable prices for farmers.

In its statement, the SKM said it was “premature” to suggest names because “we have received no written communication and no details are available so far about what this committee is about, its mandate or Terms of Reference”.

This is the first time since Modi announced a panel to look into farming issues that a senior leader of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), a platform of over 40 protesting farm unions, has spoken about the possibility of cooperating with the government.

Charuni said farmers would not give up their demand for a legislation to make MSPs in agricultural markets mandatory. An MSP is a floor price for crops meant to help avoid distress sale and farmers want a legal guarantee for it across 23-odd crops.

“It doesn’t matter whether I am in the committee or not but if is a concrete and time-bound step towards meeting all our pending demands, which includes a guarantee of MSP, farm unions will have no problems in joining it,” Charuni said.

He said the SKM would consider this and all other issues in a meeting on December 4. “The protests would not be withdrawn until all demands are met,” he added. Charuni, along with colleague Rakesh Tikait, bolstered the farm protests by bringing it out of Punjab and expanding its sphere of influence.

According to Charuni, farm unions also want monetary compensation to nearly 700 farmers who died during the course of the agitation and withdrawal of all criminal cases registered against farmers in various states.

Parliament on Monday passed the bill to repeal the three farm laws, after a year of protests by farmers.

Prime Minister Modi had announced during a nationally televised address on November 19 that his government was withdrawing the three agricultural laws because it couldn’t convince farmers about its benefits. Modi also announced a panel would be set up to pare costs of cultivations and making MSPs effective.

The government’s decision to scrap the laws came ahead of crucial state elections in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous bellwether state, and Punjab, where farmers are an influential voting bloc.

The farmers’ movement against the laws first began as sporadic demonstrations in Punjab in October 2020 but snowballed into a full-blown political uprising against the Modi government, spreading to several states in the course of a year, including Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

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