Hundreds of farmers from Uttar Pradesh squatted on the UP-Delhi border for hours after they were stopped from entering the national capital but withdrew their protest Saturday evening following a government assurance that five of their 15 demands will be met.
A delegation of the farmers met Joint Secretary in the Union Agriculture Ministry Vivek Agarwal, who assured them that their five demands — including early payment of sugarcane arrears and appointment of a representative of farmers on the committee to fix minimum prices of crops — will be met, Bharatiya Kisan Sangathan spokesperson Lalit Rana said.
Rana said the farmers have decided to withdraw the agitation after the assurance. But, he added, that this was "just an interval" and they could return if all demands are not met.
The farmers had started their march from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh on September 11. They had decided to reach Kisan Ghat, the memorial of former prime minister and farmer leader Chaudhary Charan Singh, in Delhi, to press for their demands, which also included loan waiver, cheap electricity, pension and implementation of the Swaminathan Committee recommendations.
After reaching the UP-Delhi border, the farmers were stopped Saturday morning from proceeding ahead and they sat on a protest there. However, a delegation was allowed to go and meet Union government officials at Krishi Bhavan in central Delhi.
In absence of Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, the delegation met Joint Secretary Agarwal, who assured them that five of their 15 demands will be fulfilled, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangathan spokesperson said.
The five demands met are: early payment of sugarcane arrears, cleaning of the polluted tributaries of the Ganges in western UP on priority, appointment of a representative of farmers on the committee to fix minimum prices of crops, and giving insurance benefits to all family members of farmers instead of the family head.
"We have not finished our agitation. It is just an interval as cultivators have to look after their crops which are ready for harvesting. In case our all demands are not fulfilled, farmers will again lodge their protest through agitation," Rana said.
Earlier in the day, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra questioned the BJP government on the issue in a tweet. "What is the reason that farmers are being prevented from coming to Delhi and raising their demands....why are they not allowed to speak?"
On NH-9 and NH-24 near the Ghaziabad gate, authorities had put up barricades and diverted traffic heading towards Delhi through the day. A large number of security, para-military and fire brigade personnel were deployed, apart from ambulances stationed in the area.
The Delhi Traffic Police said in the morning that traffic was obstructed on both carriageways on the national highways towards Nizamuddin area in Delhi.
However late in the afternoon, Alok Kumar, Joint Commissioner of Police (Easter Range), said the traffic situation was normal.
On Friday night, the farmers had held discussion with government representatives in Noida but the talks failed to resolve their issues.
Many of the protesting farmers were of young-to-middle age.
Gurpreet Singh, a 24-year-old student and farmer from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, said, "We started our march from Saharanpur on September 11 and have reached Delhi-UP border. There are around 2,000 farmers who have come from different areas."
Arun Kumar, a college student who accompanied his farmer-father from Muzaffarnagar, said his is a family of farmers and people like him spend most of their time in farm fields besides educational institutes.
"We want to study further and must get free education and health facilities, and for people who do not have jobs, the government should help them get employment," he said.
Ram Kumar, 43, too came from Muzaffarnagar. He said they sat on protest at 10 am after being stopped on the Delhi-UP border.
"We are demanding the state and central governments to give free electricity for irrigation, farmers must be paid the price of sugarcane along with interest on time. Farmers and labourers must receive a pension of Rs 5,000 a month after the age of 60, there must be a high court and AIIMS in western Uttar Pradesh," Kumar said.
He said the delegation that had gone to Krishi Bhavan comprised 11 people.