Farmers' organisations from Punjab on Wednesday boycotted a meeting called by the Union agriculture ministry to resolve their concerns over new farm laws and accused the government of playing double standards with no minister present to hear them out.
Representatives from 29 farmers' organisations, including Joginder Singh-led Bharati Kissan Union, were miffed at the absence of Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and minister of state for agriculture in the meeting.
The meeting was convened at the Krishi Bhavan amid police security to avoid any protest. After the meeting, agitated farmers' representatives were seen shouting slogans and tearing copies of new farm laws outside Krishi Bhavan.
Shortly after farmers' representatives walked out of the meeting, both Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh and Shiromani Akali Dal president Sukhbir Singh Badal termed the minister's absence from the meeting with farmers an "insult to anndatas".
For the minister's absence, Chief Minister Singh accused the Centre of "adding salt to farmers' wounds" and harbouring malice and ill-intent towards them, while Badal said the absence was aimed at "insulting farmers' intelligence and people of Punjab".
More than 30 representatives, who had come in a bus, were mostly senior citizens but had not even worn face masks despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
"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, said 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.
"BJP leaders are holding virtual meetings in Punjab and talking against us. We are called to Delhi and no minister wants to listen to us," Pal, who also heads the Krantikari Kisan Union Punjab, added.
Harjinder Singh from Ajad Kisan Sangathan said, "The agriculture secretary had invited us to take our feedback on the new farm laws. We thought the agriculture minister would be there, but only the secretary was present."
The secretary tried to explain that the new laws are good and will yield good results in future, he said.
"We knew the secretary had no authority and there is no point discussing it with him. We decided to boycott," he added.
Bharati Kissan Union State President Joginder Singh in a representation made to the government has demanded the repeal of the recent farm laws, legally ensure minimum support price for crops and the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations among others.
Farmers in Punjab and Haryana and other states are protesting against new farm laws which they feel will
lead to procurement in the hands of corporates and the end of MSP.
"In the meeting, only the agriculture secretary was present for holding talks with us even though farmers were assured that the Central government would talk to them," Bharatiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda) president Buta Singh Burjgill said over the phone.
"When we asked the secretary to whom he wanted us to talk to, he had no answer," said Burgill.
"We said we wanted to hold talks with those who framed laws. We are here for table talks with Cabinet-rank ministers but they do not have time for us," said BKU (Kadiyan) president Harmeet Singh.
Burjgill said he told the agriculture secretary that "on one side, you have called us for the meeting here and on the other, several union ministers have been holding rallies and doing propaganda in Punjab. These are double standards".
"Thereafter, we boycotted the meeting," said Burgill.
Eight union ministers including Hardeep Singh Puri have been deputed to hold virtual rallies over eight days from October 13 onwards to "address apprehensions" of farmers in Punjab.
Union minister of state for Agriculture Kailash Choudhary held a virtual meeting on Wednesday with farmers of Sangrur and Barnala districts.
Farmers, however, submitted their charter of demands including scrapping new farm laws.
Farmers said they would announce their next course of action on October 15 in a meeting in Chandigarh.
Farmers in Punjab have been demanding the repeal of the three laws passed by Parliament recently.
Besides blocking rail tracks, farmers have laid siege to toll plazas, fuel pumps, shopping malls of some corporates and staged sit-in outside the residences of several BJP leaders.
Farmers have expressed apprehension that the new laws will pave a way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the "mercy" of big corporates.
The government, however, has been saying that the laws passed by Parliament recently amid a vociferous protest will raise farmers' income, free them from the clutches of the middlemen and usher in new
technology in farming.
The central ministers are also reaching out to farmers, scientists and agricultural professionals in Congress-ruled Punjab to clear misgivings about new farm laws.