On May 5, Farmer Unions from Punjab have announced that they will hold street protests against Covid-19 lockdown in Punjab on May 8. They have also urged the people of Punjab to defy the lockdown. During a press conference of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) at the Singhu border protest site, Balbir Singh Rajewal, farmer leader, alleged that the lockdown was imposed to his the failure of the government to control the Covid crisis and to weaken the ongoing farmer protests.
He said, “The 32 farmer unions of Punjab have decided to protest against the lockdown on May 8 (in Punjab) where our field workers will come out on streets and ask people to open their shops and not follow the lockdown.” As per reports, farmer leaders will also force the shopkeepers to open shops and defy lockdown.
In his statement, Rajewal claimed that the lockdown is not a solution. Blaming the government for using lockdown to pass the agriculture laws, he said, “The three black farm laws were also made during the lockdown last year. Lockdown is no solution. It only results in losses to the economy and unemployment. This government is just hiding its failures under the garb of lockdown—like how they have failed in providing oxygen, beds and other medical facilities to patients.”
It has to be noted that Punjab has been experiencing a sharp spike in the Covid-19 cases. Extensive restrictions were announced by the Chief Minister to break the chain in addition to a weekend lockdown and night curfew till May 15.
Farmers marching to Delhi from different parts of Punjab
Reports suggest that over a thousand farmers have started marching towards Delhi borders from Beas, which is a town near Amritsar. They will soon join protests. These farmers had assembled at Beas from different villages of Amritsar, Tarn Taran and Gurdaspur districts. Gurbachan Singh Chabba, State Secretary, Kisan Sangharsh Committee, said he, along with other farmer leaders, are heading towards the national capital with many farmers, including children and women.
Reportedly, over 15,000 farmers also marched towards Delhi borders recently to join the protest sites. The SKM leaders have urged people to join the farmers’ protests as the harvesting season is coming to an end soon. Chabba said, “We are asking at least one family member of farmers and farm labourers to come and join us in the protest. We expect a large number of people coming from May 10 onwards.”
Covid crisis in Punjab and its possible connection to farmer protests
It has been reported that the fatality rate due to Covid-19 in Punjab is much higher than the national average. As against national average of 1.1%, the case fatality ration in Punjab is 2.3%. The main reason is believed to the UK variant. Data revealed that the cases surged in the state close to the harvesting season when farmers started to return from the Delhi border for harvesting. Also, the experts believe that the higher number of deaths in rural areas of Punjab are the result of self-medication and hesitation to go to a hospital. The majority of Covid speciality hospitals are getting from rural areas are severe with less hope of survival.
About agriculture laws
In September 2020, the Government of India passed three agriculture laws to remove middleman, provide more selling options including private markets, and improve storage facilities in the country. However, the farmers claimed that the government passed the laws to help corporate. The farmers have been protesting outside Delhi since November.
So far, 11 rounds of talks between the union government and farmers have completed without any solution. The government had offered to suspend the laws for 12-18 months in January, but the union leaders are hell-bent on getting them repealed. To find a solution, the Supreme Court had stayed implementation of the farm laws and formed a committee that had submitted its report.
Thea alleged farmers protesting at borders of the national capital organized a tractor rally on January 26 that turned violent. Recent RTI revealed that over 300 police personnel were injured in the clash between the rioters and security forces. Properties worth crores were damaged.