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No resolution on Farmers' key demands

NEW DELHI, Dec 30: The government on Wednesday agreed to two demands of farmers’ unions relating to the air quality ordinance and the draft electricity bill. However, a continuing deadlock on the key demand of repealing the farm bills implies that the protests by farmers will continue. Further, there was no agreement on the demand of farm unions to make minimum support prices (MSP) a legal entitlement.

During the meeting on Wednesday, the government proposed the formation of a committee to review demands relating to the MSP regime, as well as the three contentious farm bills. However, representatives of the farmers rejected the offer.

“Today’s discussion took place in a cordial environment. Farmers’ unions had come with four items of discussion, and we agreed on two," Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said after the meeting. Talks will continue on the remaining items on 4 January, the minister said.

Farmers were apprehensive of the air quality ordinance as they could be penalized for burning crop stubble, according to Tomar. They also wanted to continue with the existing electricity subsidy regime, he said. “On both these points we have come to an agreement," Tomar said.

The minister said that he urged farmers’ unions to send back the elderly and women who are protesting at the border of the national capital in view of the winter chill.

Wednesday’s meeting between farmers’ unions and the Centre was the sixth in a series since October. On 9 December, the government had proposed significant amendments to the farm bills and assured the farmers that the existing purchase regime at support prices will continue. The unions had rejected the offer.

Before the meeting on Wednesday, farmers’ unions informed the government that they will discuss four items. These included the modalities of repealing the farm bills, making minimum support prices a legal entitlement, changes to the air quality ordinance, and the procedure for withdrawing the draft Electricity Amendment Bill 2020.

The resolution on two items was expected as they were part of a proposal by the previous government and were only minor demands, said Kavitha Kuruganti of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, who was a part of the 40-member delegation of farmers’ representatives.

“The government asked us to offer an alternative to repealing the bills, which we rejected. So, there wasn’t any real progress on the key demand. On MSP, the government reiterated its previous stand that support prices for all crops (as a legal entitlement) is not possible, but they were willing to form a committee to look into the issues," Kuruganti said.

Thousands of farmers have been protesting on national highways bordering Delhi since 27 November, to highlight their demand that the Centre repeal the farm bills. With the standoff continuing for more than a month, crowds have been swelling at Tikri, Singhu, Ghazipur, Palwal and Shahjahanpur, on Delhi’s border with Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan.

Since the protests at Delhi’s doorstep began, more than 40 people have died in road accidents and because of the winter chill.

Farmers fear that by weakening state-regulated markets and widening the role of private corporations, the Acts passed by Parliament in September will dilute existing state purchase of food grains at MSP.

Agriculture can’t be run sitting in Delhi, says Sharad Pawar

NEW DELHI, Dec 29: Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar on Tuesday criticised the Centre for excluding state governments and not consulting them on the three new contentious farm laws, which has triggered protests by farmers since the last one month.

The clearance of the laws has prompted thousands of farmers to camp on the borders of the national capital since November 26.

In a stinging remark, the NCP supremo said that the agriculture sector of the country cannot be run sitting in Delhi. “Agriculture can’t be run by sitting in Delhi as it involves hard-working farmers in villages and a bigger responsibility for this subject lies with state governments,” said Pawar.

Pawar also countered the charges by Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar, who has said that the NCP leader wanted to introduce the same legislation during the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government but couldn’t do so, owing to the political pressure.

“I and Manmohan Singh also wanted to bring some reforms in the agriculture sector but not in the same way as the current dispensation did. That time the agriculture ministry held long deliberations on the proposed reforms with agriculture ministers of all states and experts of the sector,” Pawar said.

“So, when a majority of agriculture ministers had some reservations, it was the duty of the central government and mine to take them in confidence and resolve their issues before moving ahead,” Pawar said.

Attacking the arrogance posed by the government while introducing the three farms law, Pawar said, “How can a government say in a democracy that it won’t listen or it won’t change its line? In a way, the government bulldozed these three bills.”

Had the Centre consulted state governments and taken them in confidence, then such a situation wouldn’t have arisen, Pawar said.

The NCP chief, whose party is a one-third stakeholder in the Maharashtra government, has also alleged that farmers are not a priority for the government. “If farmers would have been the priority of the government, this problem would not have continued for so long. Then they say there are farmers only from Haryana, Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh who are protesting,” Pawar said.

“Have they not contributed to the overall food security of the country?” Pawar asked.

Pawar’s remarks come following the Centre’s invite to protesting farmers for a meeting on Wednesday in Delhi to discuss the three farm laws after farmers’ unions agreed to restart negotiations with the government in a bid to resolve the stalemate. The invite comes amid one of the largest strikes by the farmers’ unions on the borders of the national capital in decades to demand that the Centre revoke the three laws approved by Parliament in September.

Mohan Bhagwat inaugurates media studies and research centre

KOZHIKODE, Dec 29: Rashtriya Swayam Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat on Tuesday inaugurated ‘Kesari Media Studies and Research Centre’ at nearby Chalappuram and said the new generation should remember the struggle through which the organisation marched forward.

Bhagwat said ‘Kesari’, a Sangh Parivar affiliated weekly which started publishing in 1951, is a product of certain thoughts “focused on the upliftment of Bharat”.

“Kesari is a product of certain thoughts focused on the upliftment of Bharat and the new generation should remember the struggle through which the organisation marched forward despite all odds,” Bhagwat said after inaugurating the centre by lighting the traditional lamp.

The RSS chief said the journey of ‘Kesari’ during the past 70 years has not been a comfortable one and this fact should be understood by the present generation.

“There was a time when truth needed some permissions to be published. But a faith in truth and striving hard would get you to be victorious of truth and today is one among such,” Bhagwat said.

He said the objective of ‘Kesari’ was to establish the way of ‘Dharma'.

“The objective of Kesari was to establish the way of ‘Dharma’, no matter if we achieved some victories. In spite of all odds, we should strive to achieve our goals to attain dharm”, the RSS chief added.

Bhagwat released eight books including “RSS in Kerala: Saga of a Struggle” on the martyrs of the RSS and BJP, authored by Dr AKM Das and compiled jointly by Dr Das, VM Gopinath and Shabu Prasad.

Later, he inaugurated the library at the centre.

Organising Committee President, P R Nathan, noted Hindu religious scholar Swami Chidananthapuri, Ramakrishna Ashram regional chief Narasinhananda Saraswathi, Chinmaya Mission regional head Swami Tejomayananda and O Rajagopal, MLA, were among those who were present at the function.

Rajinikanth abandons plan to enter politics

CHENNAI, Dec 29: Actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan said on Tuesday he was disappointed with co-star Rajinikanth’s announcement he will not join politics over his health. Rajinikanth’s decision came a day after he left the hospital in Hyderabad where he was being treated for high blood pressure.

“I will meet Rajinikanth again after my election campaign. Like his fans, I too have been disappointed but his health is important to me,” Kamal Haasan of the Makkal Needhi Maiam said.

Superstar Rajinikanth said he will not take a plunge into politics and start a party as announced earlier, citing his frail health. “Therefore, I inform with great regret I am unable to come to politics by floating a political party. Only I know the pain behind making this announcement,” he said in a statement. He, however, said he will serve people in whatever ways he can without entering electoral politics.

The 70-year-old had announced earlier this month that he will launch his political party in January and make the details public by December 31. He had first announced in 2017 that he would indeed enter politics ahead of the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu in 2021 and field candidates from all 234 seats in the state.

Rajinikanth’s elder brother has backed the Tamil superstar’s move to withdraw his decision to launch a political party. The 77-year-old R Sathyanarayana Rao said it’s his brother’s wish and one can’t force him to change his mind.

Unlike Rajinikanth, Haasan launched Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) in 2018 in Madurai and fought the Lok Sabha elections last year with a vote share of 3.7 per cent. Haasan is in the second leg of his campaign before he heads to shoot a film in January.

Kamal will be contesting against the DMK, the AIADMK and their national partners the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It’s also the first state election after the deaths of the AIADMK’s J Jayalalitha and M Karunanidhi.

Ex-CM Shanta Kumar’s wife Santosh Shailja dies of Covid

DHARAMSHALA, Dec 29: Former Himachal Pradesh chief minister Shanta Kumar’s wife Santosh Shailja died of Covid in the early hours of Tuesday. She was 83.

She was undergoing treatment at Dr Rajendra Prasad Government Medical College (RPGMC), Tanda and suffered a cardiac arrest this morning.

Shanta Kumar and his whole family had tested coronavirus positive last week. Shailja was tested positive on Thursday and was immediately shifted to RPGMC while Shanta Kumar, his son, daughter-in-law and grand-daughter were tested positive on Friday.

Shailja was cremated as per Covid protocol. Her son lit the pyre.

Kumar is undergoing treatment at RPGMC. Chief minister Jai Ram Thakur expressed grief over the demise of Shailja. He prayed for peace to the departed soul and strength to the family to bear the loss.

Shailaja, born on April 14, 1937 in Amritsar, completed her post graduation in Hindi from Delhi and also taught in a government school. Shailja and Kumar got married in 1964 and lived in Palampur thereafter.

Like her husband, Shailja was also a writer, her first stories appeared in Saptahik Hindustan, Dharmayuga, Sarika, Kadambini. She has penned over a dozen books and novels: “The Autumn Comes”, “Glimpses of Glory”, “Tinni, Pinni Chinni”, “Deepshikha”, among others.

On Saturday when Shanta Kumar was moved to RPGMC for treatment, he penned an emotional note on his Facebook page.

“My whole family is standing at the turning point amid the Carona crisis. Not only I but the whole world is struggling with this unprecedented tragedy and don’t know when this crisis will be over.

“My wife has been hospitalized at RPGMC for three days. Today, I am by her side and she smiled after three days. We saw each other with moist eyes. Her treatment is going on. For about an hour both of us sat near each other, could not say much, but as they say silence speaks volumes,” wrote the former union minister.

Protesting Farmers Clang Thalis As PM Addresses 'Mann Ki Baat'

NEW DELHI, Dec 27: Farmers protesting against the Centre's new farm sector laws clanged thalis and raised slogans as Prime Minister's monthly radio address Mann ki Baat was broadcast this morning. The protest took place at three spots -- Singhu border, Faridkot in Punjab and Rohtak in BJP-ruled Haryana.

The "thali bajaao (clang plates)" protest during PM Modi's address was announced last Sunday. Making the announcement, Swaraj India chief Yogendra Yadav had said, "On December 27 when the Prime Minister gives his Mann Ki Baat radio address, farmers will say 'we are tired of listening to your Mann ki Baat, when will you listen to our Mann ki Baat?' So we will bang utensils so that the noise of his Mann ki Baat doesn't reach us," he explained.

The idea of clanging plates and clapping was floated by the Prime Minister earlier this year to felicitate the frontline workers battling coronavirus as the lockdown started. In today's Mann ki Baat, PM Modi referred to it also.

Citing letters written to him by the people as the year moves to a close, Modi said: "In most of the letters people have commended the country's capabilities and the collective strength of the countrymen. When a novel experiment such as Janta curfew became an inspiration for the whole world, when the country felicitated our corona warrior unitedly with Thali-taali, the applause and the reverberating chime of plates... people have sent in reminiscences of that too."

The "Delhi-Chalo" protest by farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, has been continuing for more than a month. Thousands of farmers have been camping at the borders of Delhi, demanding that the farm laws, passed in September, be scrapped.

After five rounds of talks between the farmers and the centre failed, the Supreme Court ordered that a committee be formed to address the issue. "We do not think that the farmers will accept your conclusions. Let the committee decide," the top court had told the centre.

In his last Mann ki Baat on November 29, three days after the farmers started their Delhi Chalo protest, PM Modi had spoken of the farm laws and the advantages they bring.

"After a lot of deliberation, the Parliament of India gave a legal form to the agricultural reforms. These reforms have not only served to unshackle our farmers but also given them new rights and opportunities," he said,

"The demands made by farmers for years, which every political party at some point or the other made the promise to fulfill -- those demands have been met," PM Modi said.

His remarks drew condemnation from the Congress, which questioned how it would be possible to repeal the farm laws when he is backing them.

Kejriwal apeals to Centre to repeal farm laws

NEW DELHI, Dec 27: Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday appealed to the Centre to repeal the new farm laws and said farmers are protesting for their survival.

In his second visit to the Singhu border, where thousands of farmers have been protesting against the laws since November last week, Mr Kejriwal said, "I challenge any Union minister to have an open debate with the farmers and it will be clear how harmful these laws are."

The chief minister had first visited Singhu on the Delhi-Haryana border on December 7.

"More than 40 people have lost their lives here. Today, through this platform, and at such a sacred place, I want to appeal to the central government with folded hands to repeal these farm laws. These are our people, our brothers, sisters, mothers and elders. These are the people of our nation, listen to them, and end their struggle here. How many lives will you take?" he said.

Kejriwal, who is also the Aam Aadmi Party's national convener, claimed that through these laws, corporates will take over the country's farming sector.

"What will the farmers do if you take farming away from them? The farmers who are sitting on the borders today with their elders and children are sitting here for their survival. If the big companies take over farming, the farmers will be left with nothing," he said.

Kejriwal said ministers, big leaders and some chief ministers have been speaking in support of these laws.

"I heard all their speeches, but I have not heard even a single leader talking about how these farm laws benefit farmers," he said.

The chief minister said that these big leaders, while counting the benefits of these farm laws, first say land will not be taken away from the farmers. "Is this a benefit?" he asked.

Then they say "MSP (minimum support price) and the mandis of the farmers will not be revoked, is this a benefit? Why have you brought the laws then? Instead of telling the benefits, they are justifying that these laws are no harm to the farmers. Who will benefit then?" he asked.

Kejriwal claimed that the only benefit the Centre tells is farmers will be able to sell their produce anywhere in the country outside of mandis.

"If a crop is being sold at ₹ 800 per quintal in Bihar where there are no mandis, and the MSP is ₹ 1,850 per quintal where do our farmers from Bihar and UP sell their produce for more than ₹ 1,850? They cannot even get 50 per cent of the price outside of mandis. This is not a benefit to the farmers but to the big companies and the rich," he said.

Kejriwal said the whole country is divided -- one side wants to benefit the rich by harming farmers, and the second is standing with farmers without caring for the rich.

"They are also playing blame games by saying that the farmers are being misled. I want to challenge the Centre to send in their experts on these farm laws and have a public debate with the leaders of the farmer unions. They say that the farmers do not fully know about these laws, the public debate will show how much they know," he said.

Kejriwal said a debate between a central minister, who is an expert on these laws, and farmer leaders will clear everything, and the whole nation will get to know how dangerous these farm laws are.

"I want to appeal to the Central government to not let any more farmers sacrifice their lives. This is a fight for their survival. The Central government should repeal these farm laws as soon as possible, guarantee MSP in the law, and end the struggle of the farmers," he added.

Kejriwal was accompanied by his deputy Manish Sisodia.

"Farmers are protesting for their survival. These laws will snatch away farming from farmers. I appeal with folded hands to the Centre to please repeal the three agri laws," he said.

Sisodia told the protesting farmers, "We are closely watching all the arrangements and we are ensuring that the pain you (farmers) endure is minimum."

Kejriwal joined the ''Safar-e-Shahadat'' Kirtan Darbaar organised by the Delhi government at the Guru Tegh Bahadur Memorial at the Singhu border

During his first visit, Kejriwal had checked the arrangements made for farmers by the Delhi government.

Kejriwal and his party AAP have strongly come out in favour of the farmers protesting against the new agri laws.

Besides Singhu, farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, are also protesting at various other border points of Delhi against the new farm laws.

Farmers are protesting against the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

The three farm laws, enacted in September, have been projected by the government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove middlemen and allow farmers to sell anywhere in the country.

However, the protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of Minimum Support Price and do away with the mandis, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates. The Centre has repeatedly asserted that these mechanisms will remain.

Govt extends validity of vehicle documents like DL, RC, permits till March 31

NEW DELHI, Dec 27: The extension of validity covers all vehicle documents whose validity has expired since 1st February, 2020 or would expire by March 31, 2021.

Earlier it was advised that the validity of all such documents may be treated to be valid till December 31, 2020.

The union transport ministry on Sunday extended the validity of motor vehicle documents like driving licence (DL), registration certificate (RC) and permits till March 31, 2021, in view of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (MoRTH) had earlier issued advisories dated March 30, 2020, June 9, 2020 and August 24, 2020 in connection with extension of validity of documents related to Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989.

"The Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has extended the validity of vehicular documents like DLs, RCs, permits etc till March 31, 2021 in the light of need to prevent spread of Covid-19. Ministry has today issued a directory to the states and Union Territory administrations in the regard," a MoRTH statement said.

Earlier through various notifications, it was advised that the validity of fitness, permit (all types), licence, registration or any other concerned document(s) may be treated to be valid till December 31, 2020.

The latest advisory says, "Taking into consideration the need to prevent the spread of Covid-19, it is further advised that the validity of all of the above referred documents may be treated to be valid till March 31, 2021. This covers all documents whose validity has expired since 1st February, 2020 or would expire by March 31, 2021."

Enforcement authorities are advised to treat such documents valid till March 31, 2021, the MoRTH said, adding that "this will help out citizens in availing transport related services, while maintaining social distancing".

"All the states and union territories have been requested to implement this advisory in letter and spirit so that the citizens, the transporters and various other organisations which are operating under this difficult time during the Covid-19 pandemic may not get harassed or face difficulties," the statement said.

Farmers’ group seek resumption of talks on Tuesday over new farm laws

NEW DELHI, Dec 26: Farmers’ groups on Saturday proposed to hold another round of talks with the Centre over the three farm bills on Tuesday, listing the demands they have outlined for the government ahead of the discussions.

Farmers’ rights activist and Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav said that the farmers are ready to hold another set of discussions at 11 am on Tuesday.

“The first two points in our agenda for talks are modalities to repeal the three farm laws and mechanism and procedure to bring a law for providing a legal guarantee on MSP (Minimum Support Price),” said Yadav.

Yadav’s proposal on behalf of the protesting farmers is similar to what the farmers have earlier demanded as they continue to press the government to withdraw the recently passed laws.

Though the agitating farmers have demanded a legal guarantee on minimum support price, the Centre has on several occasions assured the farmers that the MSP system will not be disturbed because of the new laws.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday highlighted that the MSP system will continue to run while disbursing funds to farmers under the PM-KISAN scheme at a virtual event on Friday.

“The Opposition is misleading farmers regarding MSP. If farmers want to sell at MSP, they can go to mandis. If they think they are getting a price from private traders, they have the freedom,” Modi had said during the event. He also highlighted that farmers will continue to get assured prices for their produce under his government.

Bharatiya Kisan Union chief Rakesh Tikait also said that the modalities to repeal the laws will be one of the primary points of discussion when talks resume.

“Modalities for the repeal of three farm laws and legal guarantee for MSP should be part of agenda for talks with the government,” said Tikait. The government has earlier outlined that it is ready for the long haul over the farm laws and have continued assuring the farmers that the laws are reformatory in nature.

The farmers’ groups also said a tractor march has been scheduled on the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal highway on December 30 to protest against the farm laws. Farmer leader Darshan Pal said “Toll plazas in Punjab and Haryana will remain permanently open. On December 30, we will organise a tractor march from Singhu border.”

Hooda demands special Haryana assembly session, says BJP-JJP coalition has lost support of MLAs

CHANDIGARH, Dec 26: Former chief minister and Leader of opposition in Haryana Bhupinder Singh Hooda on Saturday again demanded convening of a special session of the assembly and said the Congress will move a no-confidence motion against the BJP-JJP government.

Hooda said that he has requested the governor to convene a special session of the assembly “as the government is not wanting a session of the House because it wants to avoid facing a no-confidence motion”.

“Many Independent MLAs have withdrawn support to the government and many legislators of BJP’s coalition partner JJP have also spoken in support of farmers. It is clear that the BJP-JJP coalition government has lost the confidence of its own legislators,” Hooda claimed.

Responding to chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s remarks that there is no need to call a special session of the assembly, Hooda said that protest by Haryana farmers was reason enough to do so. “Every day a protesting farmer dies due to biting cold. Does the state government not consider such a big agitation of farmers as an issue which merits discussion,” he said.

“In this battle between the farmers and the government, many legislators of coalition partner JJP have also spoken in support of the farmers. It is clear that the BJP-JJP coalition government has lost not only public support but also the confidence of its own legislators,” he said.

India arrests 75 in Kashmir after local elections

SRINAGAR, Dec 26: The Indian government has arrested at least 75 Kashmiri political leaders and activists to forestall political unrest after an alliance of Kashmir’s regional political parties won local elections, leaders and a police official said on Saturday.

The District Development Council elections, concluded early this week, were the first local polls since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government revoked the special status of the Muslim-majority region last year.

The latest detentions, which include separatist leaders and members of the banned Jamat-e-Islami group, were for preventive custody, said a senior police official, who asked not to be identified.

But Imran Nabi Dar, spokesman for the National Conference, a regional party and a key member of the alliance, said the detentions undermine the verdict of the people.

Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister and head of the National Conference, said the alliance’s victory shows that Kashmiris have not accepted Modi’s decision to end Kashmir’s special status.

The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), which is pro-India but favours self-governance in Kashmir, won 112 of a total of 280 seats in the local elections, which were held in a staggered eight-phase process from November 28 through December 19.

Prime Minister Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 74 seats with just three of those in the Kashmir Valley.

Indian authorities have kept a tight grip on Kashmir since revoking its autonomy in August 2019 and have arrested most separatist leaders, who in the past have called for a boycott of elections.

New Delhi has annulled Kashmir’s constitution, split the area into two federal territories – Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir – and removed inherited protections on land and jobs.

The Kashmir-based politicians said the election results made it clear that Kashmiri people have rejected last year’s decision.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan with both claiming the region in its entirety.

Defying police deployment, Uttarakhand farmers march towards Delhi

RUDRAPUR, Dec 25: Despite heavy deployment of police force along the Uttar Pradesh border to stop farmers from marching to Delhi on Friday, hundreds of farmers marched to the national capital after clashing with police personnel on the highways.

Clashes took place in Kashipur, Bazpur and Nanakmatta between the police and furious farmers. Some police personnel including a station officer of Nanakmatta sustained injuries while stopping the farmers.

The police carried out videography of the clashes and are planning to lodge an FIR after identification of farmers who broke law and order in the district.

Daleep Singh Kunwar, senior superintendent of police (SSP), US Nagar, said, “Some of our personnel have been injured by farmers in some places. We have conducted videography of the march and will lodge FIRs against such farmers.”

Farmers of the district had decided to march towards Delhi following the Delhi March call given by Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) on Friday. On the contrary, the police of the district had appealed to them to drop the programme in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak and to protect law and order.

When the farmers didn’t drop their programme and decided to hold a march, more police force was deployed along the UP border. Despite the elaborate arrangements, farmers crossed the border and left for Delhi.

Altercations took place in Kashipur, Bazpur and Nanakmatta between police and farmers. In Kashipur barricades were erected near IGL factory and Parmnandpur village. Some police personnel received injuries while stopping farmers there.

VD Joshi, in-charge, ITI police station in Kashipur had a narrow escape from a tractor while sitting on the road to stop the tractors.

In Bazpur, farmers broke the barricades with tractors at Doraha. Police tried to push the tractors but failed to stop them. Farmers entered UP by pushing the police force aside.

In Nanakmatta, barricades were erected at Sisaikhera village on Kichha highway. Some police personnel including senior sub-inspector Sitarganj Sudakar Joshi and station officer Jhankaiya Dinesh Fartiyal received injuries while stopping the farmers.

Manjinder Singh Sirsa, farmers’ leader from Bazpur said, “Police tried to stop us illegally from marching to Delhi. We want to raise our voice in Delhi to save the farm sector from the capitalists. Come what may, we will proceed to Delhi. We are not afraid of police action.”

Raju Chhina, another farmer leader from Kashipur said, “Police are stopping us illegally from going to Delhi. No one can stop farmers in such a manner. Supreme Court must take suo motto cognizance of police’s illegal action.”

100 kg gold kept under CBI’s lock and key goes missing

CHENNAI, Dec 25: Acting at the behest of the Madras High Court, the CB-CID in Chennai has registered a case in connection with the “missing 100 kg of gold” seized by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) during a raid on an importer in 2012.

On a complaint by C Ramasubramaniam, insolvency professional and liquidator, a case was registered under section 380 (theft) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) on December 23, said a senior CB-CID official on condition of anonymity.

The 103.8 kg gold, worth Rs 30 crore, is part of 400.47 kg in bullion and ornaments seized by the CBI when it carried out searches at the premises of Surana Corporation Ltd in Chennai in 2012. The gold was kept in safes and vaults of the Surana Corporation under the CBI’s lock and seal.

On the Madras High Court’s directions, the CBI said, the vaults were opened in the presence of the official liquidator, Surana Corporation and banks’ representatives and inspected from February 27 to 29 and found that there was only 296.6 kg of gold.

The case of the missing gold became public knowledge earlier this month when the Madras High Court was hearing a petition filed by Surana Corporation’s liquidator, Ramasubramaniam, seeking a direction to the CBI to handover the remaining 103.8 kg gold.

The CBI told the court that it had handed over 72 keys of the safes and vaults to the principal special court for CBI’s cases in Chennai.

“This court is unable to state with certainty that they have handed over the keys,” said Justice PN Prakash and ordered a CB-CID probe into the case on December 11 much to the embarrassment of the CBI.

The following day, the CBI released a statement clarifying its role.

“The inventorised gold was not kept in Malkhana of the CBI. Rather it was in the premises of Surana only under the seal,” the investigating agency’s statement read.

“While the enquiry was on, the petition was filed in the high court. The CBI’s internal enquiry continues and if any adverse role of any CBI official surfaces, strict action will be taken against them,” said the agency.

During the seizure, the gold bars were bunched while weighing but while handing over to the liquidator, appointed for a settlement of debts between Surana and CBI, it was weighed individually and that was the reason for the discrepancy, the CBI had claimed.

During the course of the investigation the CBI concluded that the gold did not have a bearing on a corruption case, and that it had, however, been imported in violation of the Foreign Trade Policy (FTP). While prosecuting the case, the CBI accused officials of Minerals & Metals Trading Corporation of India (MMTC) of showing undue favour to Surana in importing gold and silver.

Rahul Gandhi demands repeal of farm laws

NEW DELHI, Dec 24: Rahul Gandhi, in a fierce attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the government over the month-long farmer protests, said today there was "no democracy" in India and those who stood up against the PM were labelled terrorists, "even if it were (RSS chief) Mohan Bhagwat".

He also demanded the repeal of the farm laws, calling them a result of the government appeasing crony capitalists.

"Modi is making money for the crony capitalists. Whoever will try to stand against him will be called a terrorist - be it farmers, labourers and even Mohan Bhagwat," the Congress leader said, referring to the chief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP's ideological mentor.

"There is no democracy in India. If some of you think there is, then it's in your imagination".

Rahul Gandhi was speaking after leading a delegation of Congress workers to President Ram Nath Kovind to seek his intervention in ending the massive protests near Delhi over the farm laws enacted in September. The Congress has also demanded a joint session of parliament to discuss the laws, which the opposition alleges were rammed through parliament in violation of rules.

The Congress march led by Rahul Gandhi to the presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhawan was stopped by the police and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and several other party leaders were taken into custody and driven away in buses. Only a few Congress leaders then proceeded.

Gandhi, speaking after his meeting with the President, said the laws would take away the livelihoods of millions of farmers and they were designed to favour "four or five businessmen" who were crony capitalists.

"What the youth and all the people of this country should know is that the PM is an incompetent man, who knowns nothing. He is an incompetent man who only listens to the crony capitalists. He does whatever they tell him," he said.

Thousands of farmers have been protesting since November-end on highways near Delhi against the laws, which the centre says are important for reforms in the agriculture sector. Farmers fear the laws will deprive them of guaranteed minimum earnings and leave them open to exploitation by big business.

"The farmers and labourers are uniting now. But like always, the moment someone speaks against the government of the day, they are labelled anti-nationals and terrorists. This is unfortunate, but that is what is happening today. People's voices are being stifled," said the Congress leader.

Centre’s invitation for talks is way to trick farmers: Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee

NEW DELHI, Dec 22: Two days after the Centre wrote to farmers’ unions protesting against the three agricultural laws inviting them for the next round of talks at a date of their choice, the protesting farmers on Tuesday said that this was not a step forward by the government but a “way to trick farmers.” They further reiterated that they don’t seek amendments in the laws but want these to be “shunned completely.”

“Government has decided its position regarding the farm laws that they’ll not be withdrawn. They released a letter stating that if farmers want amendments in these laws, they want date and time for discussion,” Sarwan Singh Pandher of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee said on Tuesday at the Singhu border, which has emerged as the epicentre of these protests.

“This is not a step forward by the government but a way to trick farmers. A normal person would think that farmers are stubborn but the fact is that we don’t seek amendments in farm laws, we want them to be completely shunned,” Pandher further said.

After five rounds of talks, including one each on December 1, 3 and 5 could not break the deadlock between the two sides, the government had written to farmers’ unions on Sunday inviting them for the sixth round, asking them to choose a date that is “convenient” to them.

The government has made it clear that it won’t repeal the three laws, passed under controversial circumstances in September, with the farm unions adamant on a total repeal. Thousands of farmers have been protesting against these laws on the borders of Delhi since last week of November and have repeatedly stressed that they have come prepared “for a long haul.”

Protests against the three agricultural laws entered day 27 on Tuesday.

Big Lead For Farooq Abdullah-Led Gupkar Alliance In J&K Local Polls

SRINAGAR, Dec 22: Farooq Abdullah-led People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration is heading for a big victory in the first local polls in Jammu and Kashmir since it lost its special status and was turned into a Union Territory last year. In the first-ever District Development Council (DDC) polls in J&K, regional parties surged ahead in Kashmir while the BJP kept an upper hand in the Jammu region.

In the latest leads, the Gupkar alliance -- a grouping of seven mainstream J&K-based parties including rivals National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti's People's Democratic Party (PDP) - is ahead in 114 seats; the BJP is leading in 72 seats. The Congress is ahead in 26.

In Jammu Province, the BJP is ahead in 69 seats while the Gupkar alliance is winning in 35. In Kashmir, the regional grouping is leading in a mammoth 79 seats while the BJP is ahead in three.

Voting was held in 280 seats - 14 in each of the 20 districts of the union territory -- in eight phases over a period of 25 days. The Gupkar alliance and the Congress are likely to win 13 district councils while the BJP and its allies are set to take six districts.

But there were no celebrations on Gupkar road where Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti, all former Chief Ministers, have homes. None of them campaigned for their candidates.

They allege that their candidates were not allowed to campaign and confined in security enclosures - an allegation that has been denied by the central government.

Among today's winners is PDP youth president Waheed Para, who was arrested by the National Investigation Agency for alleged links with militants soon after he filed his nomination papers from Pulwama in Kashmir Valley.

Farooq Abdullah is being investigated by the Enforcement Directorate for money-laundering allegations linked to the Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association. The agency recently attached his properties, including two houses in Srinagar and Jammu.

The Gupkar Alliance was formed in protest against the massive constitutional changes on August 5 last year, in which Article 370 on special status to Jammu and Kashmir was abrogated and the state was turned into two union territories. Many of its leaders, like Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah, Mehbooba Mufti and others were detained soon after the changes as part of the centre's unprecedented security crackdown in J&K. The Abdullahs were released in March while Mehbooba Mufti was freed after over a year in October.

Though these were local polls, the results are seen as a sort of referendum on the changes in Jammu and Kashmir.

"The verdict means a lot to us. It means more to us than what I can put into words. I think it should also mean something to the BJP," said Omar Abdullah.

"The BJP has beaten every drum that people of J&K are very happy with what happened on August 5. Today, the people of J&K have given their decision on what they think about 2019. They do not support it. They have overwhelmingly rejected BJP's propaganda," said the National Conference leader.

Union Minister Anurag Thakur, the BJP's in-charge for these polls, called the results a victory of democracy. "Even though people were threatened, they came out in huge numbers to cast their vote. This is the victory of democracy. PM Modi's dream that at grassroots level polls should be held in J&K has been fulfilled," said Thakur.

The announcement of the DDC polls was so sudden that it took political parties by surprise. Regional leaders emerging from long detentions and restrictions were caught in a Catch-22 situation. The decision to fight the election was just not easy for the new political amalgam derided by the BJP as the "Gupkar gang".

The Gupkar alliance announced it would field joint candidates and even issued a list of "unanimous" choices for the first few rounds of voting. The unity was short-lived as the tussle over seat-sharing forced them to stop naming more joint candidates.

Against a muted opposition, the BJP drafted central leaders, including union ministers, to campaign aggressively across Jammu and Kashmir.

The district councils are meant to drive development through direct funding from the Centre. The DDCs, in the absence of an assembly, will be the link between the people and the government in Jammu and Kashmir and each council chairperson will enjoy the status of a junior minister.

Tikri, Singhu borders closed as farmers’ stir enters Day 26

NEW DELHI, Dec 21: Tikri and Dhansa borders have been closed for traffic movement and the Jhatikara border is open only for two-wheelers and pedestrians, Delhi Traffic Police said on Monday as the ongoing farmers’ protest against the Centre’s farm laws entered the 26th day.

Police have also asked people to avoid the Outer Ring road, National Highway 44 and GTK Road. Singhu, Auchandi, Piau Maniyari, and Mangesh borders have also been closed apart from Tikri and Dhansa, they added.

“Tikri, Dhansa borders are closed for any traffic movement. Jhatikara borders is open only for two-wheelers and pedestrian movement,” Delhi Traffic Police tweeted. “Singhu, Auchandi, Piau Maniyari, and Mangesh borders are closed. Please take alternate routes via Lampur, Safiabad Saboli & Singhu school toll tax borders. Traffic has been diverted from Mukarba and GTK road. Pl avoid Outer Ring Rd, GTK road and NH 44,” they added.

The farmers’ protest against the Centre’s three farm laws is nearing its one month anniversary on December 26. Thousands of farmers have taken to the streets leading up to the national capital from several states, especially Punjab. The protesting farmers have made it clear that they were not willing to accept anything other than a complete rollback of all the three laws. The Centre, however, has proposed amendments to the laws, all of which have been rejected after discussions between the representatives of both parties.

The sets of representatives have discussed possible future courses of action a number of times but all have resulted in a stalemate. The contentious farm laws were passed by the central government in the Lok Sabha on September 17, and in the Rajya Sabha on September 20.

Farmers’ agitation intensifies on Day 24

NEW DELHI, Dec 19: The ongoing protests of farmers demanding an immediate withdrawal of the three agriculture laws that they fear would corporatise farming went on for the 23rd day with no signs of budging on Saturday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as he was addressing an Assocham event, once again reiterated that the laws are benefitting farmers and not otherwise as the opposition is trying to project.

Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar met agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar and said a fresh round of talks may happen soon.

Here are the updates of farmers protest day 23

1. Haryana chief minister ML Khattar after meeting agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Saturday expressed hope that the next round of talks could be held in the next 2-3 days. “A solution to this issue (farmers’ protest) should be found through discussion. I have said that this issue should be resolved soon,” Khattar said. Many farmers protesting against the laws are from Haryana.

2. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said reforms brought by the laws are benefitting farmers. “Agriculture reforms initiated six months back have started benefitting farmers,” he said

3. Rajasthan MP Hanuman Beniwal resigned from three parliamentary committees in support of the ongoing agitation.

4. Beniwal’s Rashtriya Loktantrik party has decided to lead a march of two lakh farmers from Rajasthan to Delhi on December 26.

5. All India Kian Sangharsh Coordination committee which is agitating at Ghazipur border said they will block both sides of the road if their negotiation with the local administration over the movement of tractors is not fruitful.

6. Union home minister Amit Shah is in West Bengal now. On Saturday, he had lunch at a farmer’s house which amid the ongoing farmers’ protest comes as a vindication of the government’s claim that farmers are the top priority of this rule.

7. On Friday, some farmers took part in a “symbolic suicide” protest in Noida.

8. A group of volunteers at Singhu border has launched newsletter Trolley Times to dispel misconceptions regarding farm laws.

9. A library-cum-cultural centre has been set up at Singhu border so that protesters, children who have come to Delhi can study.

10. As the government is reiterating its commitment to MSP, Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait has said farmers are not getting the remunerative price of their produce which is leading them to commit suicide.

No justification for seizures of Farooq's assets: Omar Abdullah

NEW DELHI, Dec 19: After the Enforcement Directorate attached asset worth Rs 11.86 crore of former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah on Saturday, his son, National Conference leader and also former CM Omar Abdullah said there can be no justification for the action.

“They fail the very basic test of having been acquired as the proceeds of the ‘crime’ being investigated,” he tweeted.

The ED on Saturday said it has attached Farooq Abdullah’s properties totaling to Rs 12 crore in a case of funds laundering of Jammu and Kashmir Cricket Association. The attached properties include three residential houses, one at Gupkar road, Srinagar; one at Tehsil Katipora, Tanmarg, and one at Bhatindi, Sunjwan(Jammu); commercial buildings at posh Residency Road area of Srinagar. Lands at four different places in J&K have also been attached.

Omer Abdullah said these properties are largely ancestral, dating from the 1970s. The most recent one among these were built before 2003.

“Dr Abdullah is in touch with his lawyers & will fight all these baseless charges in the one place that matters - a court of law, where everyone is presumed to be innocent and is entitled to a fair trial unlike in the court of the media or the court of BJP-managed social media,” he tweeted.

He also alleged that the news was published before Farooq Abdullah was given any official notice. “My father has seen the media reports regarding attachment of his properties in the ongoing investigation in to the JKCA matter. Not surprisingly the media was tipped off regarding the seizure before he had received any official notice or documentation,” he wrote.

Farooq Abdullah served as the chief minister of the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir state for several years since 1982. His last stint as the CM was between 1996 and 2002.

He was the president of JKCA from 2006 to 2012. The ED has claimed to have found that Farooq Abdullah “misused his position and clout by illegal appointments of office bearer to whom he gave financial powers for the purpose of laundering JKCA funds”.

“Despite existing regular bank account of JKCA, six new bank account were opened for parking of JKCA funds and siphoning of the same. One dormant bank account in the name of Kashmir Wing of JKCA was also made operational for the same purposed,” the ED said.

Ready to take any responsibility in party, Rahul tells colleagues

NEW DELHI, Dec 19: A day after Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeeep Singh Surjewala said an overwhelming majority of 99.9% leaders and workers wanted Rahul Gandhi to return as the party president, the issue echoed at a crucial meeting on Saturday with dissenters reiterating that they had no problem with him taking the reins of the organisation.

Addressing reporters after a meeting called by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to resolve the internal crisis, senior party functionary Pawan Kumar Bansal said no one in the party, including the dissenters, has any problem with Rahul Gandhi’s leadership.

“Everyone is of the view that the party needs Rahul Gandhi’s leadership. There was no criticism and everyone supported him,” he added.

A Congress functionary, asking not to be named, said the meeting saw senior leaders such as AK Antony, Ashok Gehlot, Harish Rawat, Ambika Soni, Ajay Maken and Bhakta Charan Das urging Rahul Gandhi to return to head the party and take back the resignation he gave on May 25 following the loss in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

But, the functionary added, Rahul Gandhi told the leaders that it is not about him becoming the party president but about rebuilding the institution and strengthening the party.

Rahul Gandhi said he was ready to accept whatever responsibility the party assigned him but urged them that it would not be appropriate to interfere in the ongoing electoral process.

When Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and his letter-writer colleagues talked about the old versus young divide in the party, Rahul Gandhi said he valued the seniors, many of whom were brought in by his father and colleagues of his mother.

Meanwhile, the Congress on Saturday appointed Ashok Arjunrao Jagtap as the new president of the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee (MRCC), the party said in a statement.

Haryana priest sacrifices life to support farmers’ stir

NEW DELHI, Dec 16: Baba Ram Singh, a priest from Haryana, shot himself on Wednesday at a site of the ongoing protests by the farmers. In a hand-written note, the 65-year-old expressed his pain over the protest against the three laws passed by Parliament in September.

In his note, he said he felt a lot of pain for the farmers as the government is not giving them justice. It is a sin to oppress and continues to be oppressed, he wrote in his note.

The protest entered its 21st day on Wednesday with the Supreme Court intervening in the deadlock situation. Hearing a public interest litigation, the apex court indicated at forming a panel with representatives of the Centre, agitating farmers and farmers from other states as well to come up with a speedy resolution of the situation.

The Centre has welcomed the suggestion of setting up a new panel while farmers have said it won’t offer any way out as they want complete withdrawal of the laws.

“Government is continuously speaking with farmers. Yes or no is not the end of any agitation...Govt is willing to give in writing that we’ll continue to buy at MSP. Farmers can sell produce inside as well as outside APMC markets,” agriculture minister of state Kailash Choudhary said.

According to reports, several farmers have died during the ongoing protest which began on November 26. The reason has mostly been the cold wave condition.

Recently, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi quoted a news report and claimed 11 farmers had died in 17 days. The number has now gone up as two road accidents also claimed the lives of four farmers from Punjab.

On Wednesday, hundreds of women, including many widows of farmers who were believed to have killed themselves over debt, joined the protest site at Tikri border.

Modi Government Crossed Limits Of Cruelty: Rahul Gandhi On Priest's Suicide

NEW DELHI, Dec 16: Reacting to a Sikh priest's alleged death by suicide at Delhi border, senior Congress MP Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday slammed the centre for not accepting the protesting farmers' demand of a repeal of the three contentious agriculture laws. He said the Narendra Modi government has crossed "all the limits of cruelty" and it must immediately withdraw the laws.

"Sant Baba Ram Singh from Karnal died by suicide over the farmers' condition, at Kundli border. My condolences in this moment of grief... many farmers have sacrificed their lives. The Modi government has crossed all the limits of cruelty. Stop being so adamant, take back the anti-farmer laws," he tweeted in Hindi.

Baba Ram Singh, the 65-year-old priest of a Gurdwara from Haryana who had joined the farmers' agitation at the Delhi-Sonipat border last evening, shot himself, the police said. In an alleged suicide note, he wrote that he was sacrificing his life "to express anger and pain against the government's injustice".

"I feel the pain of farmers fighting to ensure their rights... I share their pain because the government is not doing justice to them. To inflict injustice is a sin, but it is also a sin to tolerate injustice. To support farmers, some have returned their awards to the government. I have decided to sacrifice myself," read the note.

Shyam Lal Poonia, the Deputy Police Commissioner of Sonipat, said: "He was rushed to Park hospital in Panipat and was declared dead on arrival by the doctors".

The Shiromani Akali Dal, which had ended its alliance with the ruling BJP at the centre after being slammed over the passage of the three laws, demanded that they be revoked immediately.

"Shocked and deeply pained to learn of the demise of Sant Baba Ram Singh Ji and the circumstances surrounding the tragedy. I urge GOI to understand the gravity of the situation regarding the three Agri Acts because of which it happened and revoke these immediately," Parkash Singh Badal, the party chief, said.

"Anguished to hear that Sant Baba Ram Singh ji Nanaksar Singhra wale shot himself at Singhu border in Kisan Dharna, looking at farmers' suffering. Sant ji's sacrifice won't be allowed to go in vain. I urge GOI not to let situation deteriorate any further & repeal the 3 agri laws," tweeted senior Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Badal.

Since the end of November, tens of thousands of farmers have gathered at the borders of Delhi from Punjab and Haryana, demanding that the three farm sector laws passed by the government in September, be scrapped.

The farmers fear that the laws will make them susceptible to exploitation from big corporate houses. The government says the laws, by allowing farmers to sell their produce outside the designated agriculture markets, will eliminate the role of middlemen.

Several rounds of farmer-centre talks have failed to end the deadlock.

Anna Hazare says will start hunger strike if farmers issues not resolved

PUNE, Dec 14: Social activist Anna Hazare on Monday wrote to Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar warning “resumption of a hunger strike” against the Centre’s “failure” to fulfil his demands including the implementation of the recommendations made by M S Swaminathan Commission.

Hazare’s other demand include granting autonomy to the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).

The anti-graft activist had sat on fast in his Ralegaon Siddhi village in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra in February, 2019.

He called off the fast on February 5, 2019 after receiving a written assurance from then Union agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh that the Centre would form a high- powered committee to discuss the suggestions made by the Swaminathan Commission and other agriculture-related demands.

In his letter to Tomar, copies of which were shared with reporters, Hazare has enclosed the letter of Radha Mohan Singh assuring that the high-powered committee will prepare its report and submit it by October 30, 2019.

“The Centre had assured that it would take appropriate action on the demands on the basis of the committee’s report.

Since nothing has been done till date to that effect, I am thinking to resume the hunger strike which was called off on February 5, 2019,” Hazare wrote in his letter to Tomar.

The octogenarian said the Centre would be soon apprised of the date and venue of the fast.

Hazare observed a fast on December 8 in support of the Bharat Bandh called by farmer organisations demanding a repeal of the Centre’s three agri laws.

He had warned of an agitation if the government fails to grant autonomy to the CACP and implement recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission.

 

Shashi Tharoor joins protesting MPs at Jantar Mantar, says govt failed nation and farmers

NEW DELHI, Dec 13: Hitting out at the Centre over farmers protest against the three agriculture laws, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Sunday said that the government has failed the nation and the farmers.

Tharoor joined the protest held by the party MPs from Punjab at Jantar Mantar here on Sunday.

Tharoor said, “The Government has failed the nation and the farmers. Why did they pass the laws in such haste without consulting the stakeholders?”

“The winter session should have taken place normally by the 3rd week of November,” added Tharoor.

When asked what is the way forward, the Congress MP said, “I think that the government now should give some assurances to the farmers. The farmers are insisting that the laws be withdrawn. If technically they (government) feel they can suspend its application for now pending discussions, let them suspend it, convene Parliament winter session. The Parliament has the authority to withdraw the laws, they can also talk to the unions.”

“The government should realise that in democracy, you cannot bulldoze your way through. We stand here for democracy and rights for the people,” he added.

Meanwhile, the farmers’ agitation entered the 18th day today, with their call to block the Delhi-Jaipur highway.

The farmers are protesting against the recently enacted Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

Delhi-Jaipur highway partially opened amid farmers’ protest

KOTA, Dec 13: The Delhi-Jaipur highway was partially opened post 2 pm after it was blocked as farmers began a march from Shahjahanpur of Alwar district on the Rajasthan-Haryana border as part of their protest against the Centre’s contentious farm laws. The Haryana police did not allow march to the national capital resulting in the highway blockade.

The announcement by farmers’ unions to block the Jaipur-Delhi highway came amid protests by thousands for the last 17 days at the various other border points of the national capital, including Singhu and Tikri, against the laws. Farmers are demanding the Centre withdraw the legislations.

Enacted in September, the three farm laws have been projected by the government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove the middlemen and allow farmers to sell anywhere in the country.

Farmers of several organisations reached the Haryana border near Jaisinghpur-Khera area through Behror, Kotputli and Shahjahanpur of Rajasthan.

Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj Abhiyan, social activists Aruna Roy and Medha Paatkar, and CPM leader Amra Ram also joined farmers at Shahjahanpur, where the highway was blocked.

“We are sitting on the national highway in support of the farmers agitating at Singhu border in Delhi,” Yogendra Yadav said.

“Police and administration are telling us that blocking the national highway will create trouble for people, so we have told them that we are ready to leave the highway if we are allowed to march towards Delhi. We have also apologised to the people for the inconvenience caused by the blockade,” he said.

Kisan Panchayat national president Rampal Chaudhary continued his sit-in on the highway after farmers were stopped at Haryana border on Saturday.

“Farmers of different organisations are reaching Shahjahanpur border. We just want to march towards Delhi to press for repeal of the farm laws,” Chaudhary said.

Farmer leader Amra Ram of CPM asked the union government to withdraw the farm laws. “We do not intend to block Jaipur-Delhi national highway. It’s police who are blocking it by stopping our march,” he said.

The vehicular movement on the highway was diverted through Bansur and other routes in Alwar. Vehicles are plying on the one-way lane from Delhi to Jaipur.

Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) chief and MP Hanuman Beniwal also has plans to march towards Delhi. He organised a ‘kisan mahapanchayat’ in Kotputli on Saturday, where he accused the Congress and BJP of being two sides of the same coin and urged the Narendra Modi government to repeal the farm laws. The RLP is an ally of the BJP and part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

“PM Narendra Modi has a big heart, so he should withdraw farm laws in the interest of farmers. It is a do-or- die situation for farmers who are united,” Beniwal said.

He urged the union government to implement Swaminathan Commission’s report for farmers’ benefit.

The Rajasthan police have scaled up security in view of the farmer agitation. Bhiwadi SP Ram Murti Joshi said, “Police have made all arrangements to maintain law and order in view of the farmers’ agitation.”

Republic TV CEO Vikas Khanchandani Arrested In Mumbai In Fake TV Ratings Scam

MUMBAI, Dec 13: Republic TV chief Vikas Khanchandani has been arrested by the Mumbai Police in the fake ratings scam -- the 13th person to be arrested in the case so far.

The arrest of the top executive comes less than a week after the Supreme Court turned down a plea from ARG Outlier Media Private Limited, which owns the Republic Media network, seeking protection for the group and its employees.

"This petition is ambitious in nature. You want Maharashtra Police not to arrest any employee and transfer the cases to CBI. You better withdraw this," Justice DY Chandrachud had told the group, which had accused the Maharashtra Police of "hounding" the media house, its Editor-in-Chief Arnab Goswami and its employees.

Earlier, the channel's Head of Distribution, Ghanshyam Singh, was named in the 1,400-page charge sheet and two of the accused indicated that they will become approvers in the case. The court will take a call on the matter.

The case was filed in October after Nitin Deokar, an official of Hansa Research, an agency that placed the ratings metres, filed a complaint alleging the process was being manipulated.

After investigating the matter, the Mumbai Police said Republic TV -- which claims to have the highest ratings -- was tweaking ratings to get high advertising rates by bribing the households where the monitoring machines were set.

The police said the households were being paid to keep certain channels on. In each house, the people were paid ₹ 400 to ₹ 500 a month.

The chargesheet in the case names 140 witnesses, including forensic auditors and members of BARC or Broadcast Audience Research Council, which assesses ratings.

The channel had said the accusations were a matter of vendetta by the Mumbai police following their clash over the Sushant Singh Rajput case.

Farmers’ leaders to go on hunger strike on Dec 14 at Delhi’s Singhu border

NEW DELHI, Dec 12: All farmers’ leaders will go on hunger strike on December 14 at Delhi’s Singhu border as the protests against the farm laws intensified, according to a union member.

Demanding the complete withdrawal of the three laws, the farmers’ leader said, “If the government wants to hold talks, we are ready. But we will first discuss the repeal of the three legislation.”

“On December 14, all farmer leaders will sit on a fast sharing same stage at Singhu border. We want government to take back three Farm bills, we’re not in favour of amendments,” said Kamal Preet Singh Pannu, leader of Sanyukta Kisan Andolan.

“Centre wants to thwart our movement, but we will not allow this” Pannu also said as farmers vowed to keep protest against agriculture laws “peaceful”.

The farmers also announced to take out a tractor march on Sunday. The march will begin at 11 am tomorrow from Shahjahanpur in Rajasthan and will block Jaipur-Delhi main road, Pannu also said.

He also said that farmers from other parts of the country are also on their way to join the protesters here and they will take the agitation to the next level in the coming days.

The government on Friday asked the protesting farmers to be vigilant against their platform being misused, saying some “antisocial” as well as “Leftist and Maoist” elements were conspiring to spoil the atmosphere of the agitation.

Farmers are agitating for 17 days now against the three laws passed by Parliament in September. Describing the laws as “anti-farmer”, the agitators fear that latest legislation will leave them at the mercy of the big corporates as it does not promise minimum support price.

Earlier this week, the government sent a draft proposal of reforms that it is planning to incorporate in the laws. However, the protesting farmers at the Singhu border, the epicentre of the demonstration, rejected the proposal and remained firm on the demand for complete withdrawal.

In memoir, Pranab blames Manmohan, Sonia for Cong’s defeat, says Modi govt’s first term autocratic

NEW DELHI, Dec 11: A soon-to-be-released autobiography by former President Pranab Mukherjee blames Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for the party’s devastating loss in the 2014 general elections, and contends that Prime Minister Narendra Modi employed an autocratic style of governance during his first term in power, the book’s publisher announced on Friday.

Mukherjee, who was a senior minister in the United Progressive Alliance government and the Congress party’s chief troubleshooter before his term as President between 2012 and 2017, died in August. His new book, The Presidential Years, is the fourth volume of his memoirs and will be released in January 2021.

The statements attributed to Mukherjee are from a statement released by Rupa books on Friday.

“While Dr Singh was preoccupied with saving the coalition, which took a toll on governance, Modi seemed to have employed a rather autocratic style of governance during his first term, as seen by the bitter relationship among the government, the legislature and the judiciary,” he wrote, according to the statement. “Only time will tell if there is a better understanding on such matters in the second term of this government.”

According to the statement, the former President — whose 85th birth anniversary was celebrated on Friday — wrote in his first-person account that he believed the moral authority to govern was vested with the PM and the state of the nation was always reflective of the functioning of the PM and their administration.

Mukherjee, who was a senior leader of the Congress party for five decades and held almost every senior position in the party and central government, had strong words for his party’s functioning.

“I do believe that the party’s leadership lost political focus after my elevation as president. While Sonia Gandhi was unable to handle the affairs of the party, Dr Singh’s prolonged absence from the House put an end to any personal contact with other MPs,” he wrote.

In the 2014 general election, the Congress slumped to its worst performance and won only 44 of 543 Lok Sabha seats. He wrote that there was section of leaders who believed that if he was elevated as PM in 2004 — when the Congress stitched together a coalition to snatch power with an unexpectedly strong showing in the general elections — the party’s poor performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls could have been averted. But, he added, he did not subscribe to this view.

Leaders from the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) refused to comment.

In the book – replete with rare photos and handwritten notes, according to Rupa – Mukherjee also touched on the diplomatic tension that apparently flared up during the visit of US President Barack Obama in 2015 when the US Secret Service insisted Obama travel in a specially armoured vehicle brought from the US, and not in the car designated for use by the Indian head of state.

“They wanted me to travel in the same armoured car along with Obama. I politely but firmly refused to do so, and requested the MEA to inform the US authorities that when the US president travels with the Indian president in India, he would have to trust our security arrangements. It cannot be the other way around,” he said, according to the statement.

The memoir, the publisher said, also focused on his journey from a remote village in Bengal to Rashtrapati Bhavan, and how he reshaped the presidency, the Rupa statement added. The book also recollected the challenges he faced as President, the difficult decisions he made and the tightrope walk he undertook to ensure that both constitutional propriety and his opinion were taken into consideration.

“If he were still alive, he would have been thrilled to note the widespread excitement among readers to read this extremely well-written autobiography. It’s so personal in tone that to me it almost seems like the former President is sitting in his study with a cup of tea (and shingara) and narrating his story,” said Kapish G Mehra, managing director, Rupa Publications India.

With no end to deadlock on 3 laws, farmers pile up pressure with numbers

KARNAL, Dec 10: The number of farmers at Delhi-Haryana borders is increasing with each passing day with more from across Punjab and Haryana making a beeline to join the protest in the national capital against the three farm laws that they deem to be detrimental to their livelihood.

The agitation entered the 14th day on Wednesday with a constant flow of farmers carrying black flags on their actor-trailers, SUVs, cars, trucks and canters, marching forward on NH 44----- Delhi-Chandigarh national highway-- towards the national capital.

With talks with Union government remaining inconclusive, the farmer leaders are requesting more and more followers to join the protests to increase the pressure on the government for the withdrawal of the three laws. Farmers in the villages along the highways and Gurdwaras are serving langar (community kitchen) for travelling farmers.

Another reason behind the continuing surge in the numbers lies in the fact that sowing of wheat is over and the farmers are free for about a month till the first irrigation of the crop.

“We hired a bus and 45 farmers from my village left for Delhi on Wednesday morning as we should help our brothers and sisters, who are sitting there for the past two weeks,” said Rampal Sharma from Bhor Saidan village of Kurukshetra district.

“We want to tell our chief minister that farmers from Haryana are also with their counterparts from Punjab and we will stay in Delhi until these anti-farmer laws are withdrawn,” said a young farmer, Vikas Kamboj, from Yamunanagar.

He is on way to Delhi with his four friends in his black SUV.

Farmers, especially the youth, are expressing their solidarity with ongoing agitation using social media. Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) president Gurnam Singh Charuni has also created a WhatsApp group to give live updates and video messages to his supporters from the Singhu border.

Farmer leaders reject govt proposal, call for nationwide protest on Dec 14

NEW DELHI, Dec 9: The farmer unions on Wednesday rejected the proposal sent by the Centre to end the impasse over farm laws. The farmers protesting near national capital Delhi said that they will block the Delhi-Jaipur national highway by December 12 and hold protest demonstrations in many parts of the country on December 14.

The protesters also urged farmers from other states to reach Delhi.

“Agra-Delhi Expressway will be blocked on December 12; no tax to be paid on that day at any toll plaza in country,” farmer leader Darshan Pal said.

“We will block all roads in Delhi one by one if the three farm laws are not scrapped,” the farmer leaders present at the Singhu border (on the Haryana side) near Delhi said. They also said that no decision has been taken on next round of talks with central government.

The protest against the farm laws has been going on since November 26. On Tuesday, the farmers unions had enforced a Bharat Bandh (nationwide strike) from 11 am to 3 pm, which was peaceful. The central government has held five rounds of talks with the farmer leaders, but no breakthrough has been achieved.

Union home minister Amit Shah had called the farmer leaders on Tuesday evening for informal negotiations, and informed them that a list of proposal will be shared with them. That list, with seven proposed amendments, was handed over to the leaders of 13 farm unions on Wednesday.

The leaders held discussions and rejected the proposal on Wednesday. “There is nothing new in government proposal; we will continue our protest against three agri-marketing laws,” farmer leader Prahalad Singh Bharukheda said.

In the proposal, the government had agreed to give a written assurance on continuing the Minimum Support Price (MSP), one of the main concerns raised by the protesters. It had also tried to allay their fears over mandis (marketplace) and taking over of farmlands by big corporates. But the farmers are firm with their demand that the farm laws should be repealed.

Meanwhile, Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar reached home minister Amit Shah’s residence on Wednesday evening for discussions.

The farmers are protesting against three newly enacted farm laws - Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

If farmers don’t stand up today, they will be silenced forever: Rahul Gandhi

NEW DELHI, Dec 9: A delegation of opposition parties including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury and NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) chief Sharad Pawar met President Ram Nath Kovind on Wednesday, demanding roll back of three farm laws passed by Parliament recently.

Calling it an “anti-farmer” laws, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi slammed the Centre for passing the laws without consulting with the opposition parties and the farmers. Gandhi pointed out that the way the bills were passed is an “insult to farmers” who are out on the streets, protesting in cold weather.

“The manner in which these three bills were passed, without any discussion, without any conversation with the opposition parties and certainly without a discussion with the farmers of this country, who have built India, is an insult to the kisans (farmers) of this country,” Gandhi said. The Congress leader was addressing the media after his meeting with the President over the farm laws.

The delegation leaders said that they have urged the President to take back the laws. Gandhi said that the farmer no longer believes in the government’s intention. “The kisan (farmer) has lost faith in the government. The kisan does not believe that the government is acting in their interest and that is why lakhs of them are on the streets, non-violently and compassionately. They are struggling in cold weather with complete respect. So, we have informed the President that it is absolutely critical that these bills are taken back,” he added.

The five-member delegation of opposition leaders that met the President on Wednesday also included CPI general secretary D Raja and DMK leader TKS Elangovan.

Taking a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Gandhi alleged that the true agenda of the three farm laws is to “handover India’s agriculture system to PM’s friends”.

“Our prime minister said that these bills are for the benefit of our farmer, if that’s true, then why are they (farmers) on the streets? Why is the farmer so angry? Because the true agenda of the three farm bills is to handover India’s agriculture system to prime minister’s friends, and the kisan is very well aware of this,” the former Congress chief said.

“Nobody can stand in front of a farmer’s strength. The government should have no misunderstanding that the farmers will move, will get scared because India’s farmers will not move until these bills are taken back,” he added.

Earlier today, the farmer unions rejected the proposal sent by the Centre to end the protests over the agri laws and said that they will block the Delhi-Jaipur national highway by December 12 and hold demonstrations protesting the farm laws in several parts of the country on December 14.

Rahul Gandhi urged the farmers to not be afraid and assured complete support of opposition parties. “Government should have no misconception. Our farmers will not compromise because they know that if they compromise today, then they will have no future in the country. And I am telling this to our farmers, that if you do not stand up today, then you will be silenced forever, and we are standing with you. You are Hindustan,” the Congress leader said at the end of press conference.

Thousands of farmers have been protesting at various borders in and around Delhi against the new agriculture laws since November 26. The three farm laws which were passed in September have been projected by the Centre as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will help remove the middlemen and give farmers the right to sell their produce anywhere in the country.

However, the protesting farmers have said that the new farm laws will take away the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and the mandis, giving power to big corporates.

Farmers Bharat Bandh Successful

NEW DELHI, Dec 8: Farmer leaders said on Tuesday their Bharat Bandh against the new farm laws was successful and had an impact in 25 States.

Addressing the media at a protest site on the Singhu border, they said the "super Bandh" made the government open its "eyes and ears".

The protesters did not go to Burari ground as it is an "oepn jail" and demanded that Ramlila ground be given to them. They stressed that they don't want to trouble the people of Delhi and Haryana.

Thousands of farmers are protested against Centre’s new farm laws in and around Delhi with a nationwide strike or Bharat Bandh held on Tuesday from 11am to 3pm.

A day before the fourth round of talks between farmers’ representatives and the government, Union home minister Amit Shah on Tuesday met the leaders of farmers’ union for talks.

“The home minister’s office sent a message. We will meet him. Efforts to resolve the farmers’ protests are going on. Our bandh today has been successful and peaceful,” said Rakesh Tikait, the leader of Bharatiya Kisan Union’s Tikait faction.

However, the protesting farmers have reiterated their stand of not compromising on their demand that the three farm laws be revoked by government.

“There is no midway, we will demand just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ from Home Minister Amit Shah at today’s meeting,” said farmer leader Rudru Singh Mansa.

Farmers have been protesting the three contentious farm laws - Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 - enacted by the Centre during the monsoon session of Parliament.

The next round of talks between the government and the protesting farmers is scheduled to take place on Wednesday.

A PIL seeking to allow farmers, who are protesting at several border points of the national capital against the new farm laws, to protest at the designated place by following Covid-19 guidelines has been filed in the Supreme Court. The plea filed by Delhi-based lawyer Reepak Kansal has sought framing guidelines to balance citizens right to protest with right to free access and movement.

Protesting farmers at Ghaziabad’s UP-Gate border blocked the Delhi-Ghaziabad carriageway even as heavy deployment of police and other personnel looked on. The protesters, last week on Thursday, had shut down the Ghaziabad-Delhi carriageway and with Tuesday’s development, National Highway-9 is now completely blocked.

Hundreds of protesters who had been staging protest at the blocked Ghaziabad-Delhi carriageway on Tuesday morning proceeded to the Delhi-Ghaziabad carriageway as soon as the bandh started from 11am.

“The traffic is blocked by protesters on the other side as well and they said that it will be for a few hours. The Delhi Police has stopped traffic from their side and have made diversions,” said Kalanidhi Naithani, superintendent of police, Ghaziabad.

Ghaziabad district administration and police had made elaborate arrangements for the bandh but were unable to prevent protesters from blocking the other side of the highway even though it was imminent. They had said they were fully prepared and will not allow blockade of the second carriageway of the highway.

Opposition extend support to Bharat Bandh on Dec 8

NEW DELHI, Dec 7: Many opposition parties have announced their support to the nationwide strike called on 8 December by farmers' union in various parts of the country to express solidarity with the agitators, who have stayed put on Delhi borders for 10 days

Farmers' leaders have said that they will carry on with the 'Bharat Bandh' (nationwide strike) on December 8 to mount pressure on the Central Government.

The representatives of thousands of protesting farmers, who are sitting on various borders of Delhi since November 26, have said their call for a 'Bharat Bandh' would be observed with full force.

After the third round of talks on Saturday between farmers' leaders and the Centre, the farmers' union stood firm on their demand against the new agri-marketing laws and announced that the government should rollback the three farm laws.

As many as 14 opposition parties, including Congress, AIUDF and the Left, in Assam announce their "full support" to 'Bharat Bandh.'

The NCP on Sunday joined other opposition parties in extending support to the call of Bharat Band. In addition to that, Maharashtra NCP unit president Jayant Patil said in a statement that the party workers will join the Tuesday shutdown in protest against passing of the agri laws by Parliament without holding discussions.

Various opposition parties have announced support to the ‘Bharat Bandh’ called on 8 December by farmers in various parts of the country to express solidarity with the agitators, who have stayed put on Delhi borders for 10 days.

The Congress party has expressed its "whole-hearted" support to the nationwide strike called by the agitating farmers against the three farm laws and said that it will hold protests that day at all district and state headquarters in solidarity with the demands of the farmers. Addressing a press meet at the AICC headquarters in Delhi, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said, "I would also like to announce that the Congress party extends its whole-hearted support to the Bharat Bandh on December 8."

On why govt is facing problems, NCP Chief Sharad Pawar said, "When Bill was being passed, we'd requested govt that they shouldn't be in a hurry, it should be sent to Select Committee & a discussion is needed, but that didn't happen and the Bill was passed in haste. Now govt is facing problems because of that haste."

The Telangana Rashtra Samithi on Sunday extended support to the 8 December 'Bharat Bandh' call by various farmers' organisations and farmer leaders against the govt's new farm laws. TRS chief and Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao said the party rank and file would actively participate in the bandh to ensure it was a success. "We'd opposed the Bills in Parliament, we continue to do so. MSP hasn't been assured in any of these Bills. Also, if mandi structure is dismantled there's no alternative structure in this country, so farmer is insecure. TRS will support the farmer' Bandh call," said K Kavitha, TRS MLC.

The ruling Trinamool Congress in West Bengal has decided to extend its "moral support" to the 8 December nationwide strike and would stage sit-ins in various areas for three days.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), Revolutionary Socialist Party and All India Forward Bloc, in a joint statement, announced their support to the countrywide strike.

Opposition parties led by RJD's Tejashwi Yadav in Patna were allowed to hold a brief protest against new farm laws at the statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the Gandhi Maidan, where they pledged to support the agitating farmers. Tejashwi said, "I am standing with the Anndata (providers of food) in their fight against the Dhandata (people who own wealth)." "Is it a crime to raise voice in support of farmers demanding provision for Minimum Support Price (MSP) in the newly enacted laws. If it is a crime, then we will commit such crime every time," he said on Twitter.

The joint forum of trade unions that has supported the farmers’ protest includes Indian National Trade Union Congress (INTUC), All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), Hind Mazdoor Sabha (HMS), Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), All India United Trade Union Centre (AIUTUC) and Trade Union Co-ordination Centre (TUCC).

A number of bank unions have also expressed their solidarity with farmers protesting and requested the Centre to resolve the issue at the earliest. Officer unions All India Bank Officers' Confederation (AIBOC), All India Bank Officers' Association (AIBOA) and Indian National Bank Officers' Congress (INBOC) have also requested the govt to initiate meaningful dialogue to resolve the impasse by referring the bills to a select committee by a special Presidential Order.

The farmers are protesting against the Centre's new farm laws -- the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020.

Indian Govt Should Revoke Farmers’ Act

By Rajendar Dichpally

Rajendar DichpallyNEW YORK, Dec 6: The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, commonly known as Farmers’ Act, permits intra-state and inter-state trade of farmers’ produce beyond the physical premises of Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) markets and other markets notified under the state APMC Acts. The rationale given for this Act is that it will facilitate better prices to the farmers through increased competition from private sector like superstores - Amazon or anybody by promoting barrier free inter-state & intra-state trade, and online trading, of agricultural goods. This Act eliminates market fee or cess on farmers, traders, electronic trading platforms outside the APMC area.

We start our analysis with the first question of reliability of the Act as the government of India intends that this will benefit farmers. The point to note is if this Act was passed at the request of farmers or their representatives since they can represent their interests in the best manner. We get a clear "No" as an answer. The Agriculture Minister of India did not invite any farmers organizations/ bodies for discussions and refused to meet the representatives of farmers when they came to meet him for amendments after the passage of the Act.

Then the question arises at whose request or whose benefit was this Act passed for? Let us try to understand whom the bill is really going to benefit and then we can infer who has paid for this Act to be passed.

This Act makes the provision that anybody with Aadhaar card (identity card for Indians) can buy any amount of agricultural produce and store it in godowns without limit. Obviously, the language of this Act is trying to confuse the Indian people since all consumers have Aadhaar card and they can think that they got an opportunity to buy cheaply just after the harvest, and store the produce in their homes. But in reality, they would not buy more than a few days or at most a few months of food stock as it is highly inconvenient and costly to keep large amounts of food stock. But that option makes the consumers happy because they feel they got something for free and that gives public support to the government.

Given that the end consumers will not be the using the benefit of buying cheaply and storing provided by this Act, the real buyers and beneficiaries will be the superstore owners like Big Bazar, and Reliance Smart and Fresh, and Amazon or a few other wholesalers. These big players will buy just after the harvest and stock in their godowns. They have no competitors as small traders do not have money to stockpile, hence they will be thrown out of competition.

On concentration of market, we noted that Reliance is selling 40% of its stake to Amazon for 20 billion dollars (proposal stage only), so basically reliance will not be a competitor for Amazon, but a partner of Amazon. Reliance has already bought the Big Bazar for Rs 24,713 crores on August 30th, 2020. With these competition avoidance initiatives, there is only one buyer (also called monopsonist in economics) left because the other ones has been eliminated and rest will be eliminated sooner than later.

The entire government of India is there to kill the competitors for Reliance. Eventually, Reliance will have double monopoly as it will be the single dominant buyer for farmers’ produce to pay them lowest prices and the single dominant seller to consumers to charge them the highest prices.

We analyze the second question if this Act benefits the consumers. Since there are only a few very big sellers in the market and eventually only one will remain, the consumers will have to pay the price these large traders or the monopolist will charge. They will be paying higher prices than today because monopoly price is always higher than perfectly competitive price.

After this Act eradicated stock limit of essential commodities on September 27, 2020, the final prices of essential commodities increased significantly. For example, the price of onion is currently at Rs.80 per Kg, potato at Rs.50 per kg, tomato to Rs.60 per kg, almost triple than before. The sad part is the farmers got a small fraction of that price. The large middlemen are looting both the farmers and the consumers.

Because of this loot of farmers, not only the farmers are protesting in large numbers and getting support from opposition parties but also some of ruling BJP’s own Party members are opposing this Farmers’ Act. BJP’s alliance party Akali Dal left them.

Another factor to be considered is if the farmers are assured of their return on investment! This Act removed the earlier protection of minimum support price (MSP) hence these few large buyers can force the farmers to sell their produce at lower prices (bulk prices). The net gainers will be these superstore owners as they have far more bargaining power than the farmers. They know that the farmers have no storage capacity.

To check the success of Act, we analyze if the farmers can delay the sale of their produce to bargain better prices from these few large buyers or eventually the monopsonist. Again we see that this is not possible because the farmers have borrowed money from banks before sowing to purchase fertilizers, insecticides and other inputs and the banks (sometimes owned by the superstore owners) will be after the farmers to sell their produce quickly and return their loans. Also, their goods will perish because of lack of storage facilities with them. After this Act, the prices of agricultural produce are being sold at 50% to 60% of MSP. For example, paddy is being sold for Rs 900 a quintal while MSP for that is Rs 1750 per quintal. Same is the case with wheat, maize, and other staple crops.

Total farm produce of India in 1950-51 was 50.82 million tons. It increased to 252.22 million tons in 2015-16. Even though production increased, 70% of the 90 million farmers’ houses have less income from agriculture than the family expenditure implying they will be in debt. 52% of Indian farmers are in debt and the average amount of debt as per NABARD data was $1470 or Rs. 85,000 in 2018. With the elimination of MSP, their indebtedness will increase because their income will be lower than before.

Another provision of the Act is contract farming which allows corporations to sign contract with the farmers about what to produce and how to produce. The implication is the contract company will utilize famer’s land intensively, exploit all its productivity, use maximum possible amount of fertilizers to increase final produce, make the land barren in 3-4 years and then leave it to find another fertile land. Thus, the company will effectively rob the farmer of his fertile land and leave him with barren land on which the farmer cannot produce any crop for a year or more.

The other loss to farmers is that the subsidy provided to farmers is gone. As we analyzed and found that in the case of Indian agriculture, the farmers do not have equal bargaining powers vis a vis their big corporate buyers who have immense financial resources, better knowledge, and can build large storage facilities. Since agricultural goods are either perishable or have high storage costs which the Indian farmers cannot bear, there is justification of subsidies to farmers.

This subsidy covers fertilizer subsidy because fertilizers increase agricultural productivity and minimum support prices (MSP) so that farmers can take rational decisions with price assurance. This kind of assurance through MSP is good for the society as well since it assures supply of consumable agricultural produce with less price fluctuations.

With the elimination of MSP, these large corporate buyers have freed the government with the responsibility to provide subsidy to the farmers. This is disastrous for the farmers because they lost the protection of MSP. The consumers will also lose because they will have to pay the monopoly price. To sum up, this Act is helping only to the big corporate middleman and fleecing all others. On a national scale, this is disastrous for the economy because it will increase inequality, poverty and possibly crime and ultimately reducing GDP growth. The provision of contract farming has potential of being environmentally disastrous.

As I write this article, there is a huge protest against this act by the Farmers all across the Country. Millions of farmers have gathered around Delhi in thousands of tractors to vent their opposition to this act by the NDA Government. This is the largest rally by the farmers ever anywhere in the world and the biggest protest in independent India. The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) Government must listen to these voices of the farmers and revoke this act that will not benefit the farmers or the consumer and will only lead to more difficulties to the farmer. Let us hope the Government listens to the voice of the farmer that feeds the country amidst so many difficulties.

Farmers’ group hold silent protests at government meeting; want ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to their demands

NEW DELHI, Dec 5: Farmers’ group went on a ‘maun vrat’ (vow of silence) during their fifth round of talks with the government and sought a reply in ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on their key demand of repealing the three new farm laws, union leaders said.

As their meeting with three union ministers, including Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, continued for nearly four hours, farmer leaders told the government to reply in “black and white” that whether it will repeal the laws or not.

“Farmer union leaders are sitting on a ‘maun vrat’,” Punjab Kisan Union leader Ruldhu Singh said.

Kavitha Kuruganti of AIKSCC (All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee) said the government was not responding to the pinpointed question of farmer leaders.

Gurlabh Singh Mahal, legal advisor to Punjab Kisan Union, also said the farmer leaders wanted the government to answer in ‘Yes or No’. Some farmer leaders present in the meeting were seen putting finger on their lips and holding a paper written ‘Yes or No’ on that.

“All members of delegation have decided to keep silent. The government side is trying to draw us out. But there is utter silence from our side,” Kuruganti said.

Anil Vij tests positive, days after taking trial Covid-19 vaccine shot

CHANDIGARH, Dec 5: Barely two weeks after being administered a trial vaccine shot of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin, Haryana’s Health Minister Anil Vij Saturday tested positive of the novel coronavirus.

The 67-year-old BJP veteran is diabetic, and had recently undergone a surgery for a thigh bone fracture. He had volunteered to participate in the vaccine’s human phase trials, in which over 25,000 persons were administered trial doses.

Announcing that he had tested positive for Covid-19, Vij tweeted: “I have been tested Corona positive. I am admitted in Civil Hospital Ambala Cantt. All those who have come in close contact to me are advised to get themselves tested for corona.”

Health department officials said Vij was under close surveillance by a team of doctors, and his health parameters were fine.

On November 20, Vij was the first in Haryana to participate in Covaxin’s trials. Besides Vij, over 400 persons from Haryana, including Rohtak PGIMS’ Vice Chancellor Dr. OP Kalra, too participated in the third phase human trials and took the vaccine shot.

A team of Rohtak Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences had administered the vaccine to Vij at Ambala Cantonment’s civil hospital. His health and vitals were being monitored on a weekly basis, ever since.

Vij had been going to his office at Haryana Civil Secretariat regularly since November 20. He has not taken the official accommodation, and has been staying at his residence in Ambala. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the public has been curtailed from visiting his residence by his security staff. However, he was still meeting a substantial number of people and hearing their grievances on a daily basis.

On Friday, a three-member delegation from the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP), led by the party’s state chief Nishan Singh, Dushyant Chautala’s younger brother Digvijay Chautala and another JJP leader Randhir Singh, had met Vij at his office. Various journalists, too, had been regularly meeting Vij at the Haryana Civil Secretariat for briefings and interactions with the home-cum-health minister.

Three days ago, Vij had met Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar and various top bureaucrats. He also met Yoga guru Baba Ramdev and both had shared pictures hugging each other. After Vij and Ramdev’s meetings, the Haryana government had announced that it would introduce Yoga as one of the subjects in the school curriculum from the next academic session.

After getting Covaxin’s trial shot for Covid-19, Vij had said: “It is a matter of pride for every Indian that Bharat Biotech is coming up with an indigenous vaccine for Covid-19. I had volunteered to become one of the participant for the third phase so that people shed their fears and come forward to volunteer. With this, the entire process of developing the vaccine shall be expedited. Today, people are facing so many difficulties due to this ongoing pandemic, people cannot attend family functions, they cannot go out to meet their loved ones, children cannot go to their schools/colleges, they cannot go out and watch movies in cinema halls, buses are running empty. People want to get rid of this pandemic as early as possible. That is the reason, I volunteered for getting the vaccination.”

He had added, “I have full faith in the capability and ability of our doctors. The first two trials that took place were for restricted categories. But, this third phase of trial is open for even high risk category people. I did not fear for even a minute. I got the vaccination and came to office and have resumed my work as any other routine day for me… Doctors kept me under observation for an hour and then allowed me to go. They checked my blood pressure and took my blood samples. They will monitor my health for one year and several blood tests will be conducted every month. I have no problem with that. Doctors can do any test on me, whenever they want. We have created a facility in Rohtak PGIMS and people can go there and volunteer to get the vaccine’s trial dose. I want that the trials should complete expeditiously.”

Farmers’ protest continues

NEW DELHI, Dec 4: The government and farmer leaders are scheduled to meet again on Saturday for their fifth round of talks to end the deadlock over the new farm laws.

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State of Commerce and Industry Som Parkash, who will be present in the meeting, will deliberate on the points that farmer leaders had raised and offer possible solutions.

According to sources, the government has worked out possible solutions to the provisions on which farm leaders have raised objections. It hopes to break the deadlock on Saturday so that the farmers’ protest ends at the earliest.

In the previous meeting on Thursday, Tomar had assured 40 farmer union leaders that the government is open to considering ways to strengthen APMC mandis, create a level-playing field with proposed private markets, and provide a provision for approaching higher courts for dispute resolution, while asserting that procurement at minimum support price (MSP) will continue.

But the other side stuck to their demand of repealing the three “hastily-passed” farm laws, saying that the legislations with several loopholes and deficiencies cannot be amended.

It needs to be seen whether farmer leaders will accept solutions offered by the government and end the protest due to which Delhi’s border points remained choked as thousands of farmers from Haryana, Punjab, and other states held demonstrations for the ninth consecutive day.

Meanwhile, Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait has threatened that the farmers’ agitation would intensify if the government fails to meet the demands.

“The government and the farmers did not reach any decision during the meeting held on Thursday. The government wants to make amendments to the three laws, but we want the laws to be completely repealed. If the government does not agree to our demands, we will continue to protest. We are looking to find out what happens in Saturday’s meeting,” said Tikait.

The farmer community has expressed apprehension that the new laws are “anti-farmer”, and would pave the way for dismantling of the MSP system, leaving them at the “mercy” of big corporations.

However, the government has maintained that the new laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture.

Farmers say ready to wait till January, join R-Day parade in tractors

NEW DELHI, Dec 4: Reiterating their stance that they will not settle for anything but a complete rollback of the three new laws that seek to open up farm trade, farmers protesting on the Ghazipur border said they will stay put and participate in the Republic Day parade on their tractors in Delhi, if their demands are not met.

Rakesh Tikait, farmer leader and spokesperson, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) said, “Since talks with the government have not yielded any results so far, we are going to camp at the border at least till January 26.”

“We have enough ration to camp here till January end. If the situation remains the same, we have planned to march up to the India Gate in our tractors to participate in the [Republic Day] parade. We want the country to see the real farmers,” said Tikait.

He added, they will cross the border and March towards Delhi on the night of January 25. “We will respond if the government tries to stop by force.”

Thousands of farmers are sitting in protest against the new farm laws on four borders of Delhi --- Singhu, Tikri, Chilla and Ghazipur. Their representatives have held two rounds of talks with the Centre so far, with the third round scheduled for Saturday. On Thursday, farmer leaders had said that they were hopeful of a resolution but will not settle for anything less than the complete revocation of the new laws enacted by the Parliament in September.

Mangeram Tyagi, chief secretary, Bhartiya Kisan Union (NCR Unit), said the ball is in the Centre’s court. “It depends on the government for how long we will stay here”.

“We are not going to move an inch unless our demands are met. We have been staying here for the past one week, we are strong enough to spend months,” Tyagi said.

At Ghazipur, farmers have deployed a volunteer group of 50-60, who are going around the protest venue and registering the names, addresses and contact numbers of the protesters to keep an eye on what they claim were “anti-social elements, who were coming to the protests to disrupt the movement”.

A senior police officer deployed at Ghazipur said the security forces are ready to handle any situation. Even as some groups of farmers who had joined the protest in Ghaziabad from Hapur, Bulandshahr, Meerut and Moradabad returned on Friday, a large group of protesters were still camping at the site.

Meanwhile, traffic towards Delhi from Haryana and UP continued to be diverted, causing jams on the border points and on the nearby roads. However, the situation was relatively better on Friday as the motorists were aware about the closure of the borders and diversions.

Like the last three days, when at least two more borders connecting Delhi to Noida and Ghaziabad, were partially closed, no new blockage was reported on Friday at any border.

Gagan Chawla, 41, an IT professional who travelled from Noida to Delhi and back, said due to closure of Chila border the available routes witnessed heavy traffic. “I heard it was even worse on Thursday. However, on the way back to Noida, traffic is relatively smoother,” he said.

Vipul Garg, who was travelling from Ghaziabad to Delhi also said traffic on Friday was relatively better than Thursday. “Yesterday, I had to take alternative routes to reach Delhi via Apsara border but today since I was aware I avoided traffic jams,” said Garg, a businessman.

The Chilla border (Delhi-Noida Link Road), which was closed completely for at least 22 hours between Tuesday and Wednesday, was partially opened on Thursday. Even on Friday, one carriageway connecting Noida from Delhi remained open while the opposite carriageway towards Delhi was closed.

The police diverted the traffic towards DND, Kalindi Kunj, Dallupura, Khoda, New Ashok Nagar, and Kondli. Although heavy traffic was witnessed in the morning and evening hours on Friday, the situation was slightly better than what it was on Thursday.

Delhi police issued advisories regarding diversions and road blockages

Anil Mittal, additional spokesperson, Delhi police, said in an advisory, the Chilla border on Noida Link Road is closed for traffic from Noida to Delhi due to farmers protests near Gautam Budh Dwar. “People are advised to avoid Noida link road for coming to Delhi and use DND,” Mittal said.

He added, due to the ongoing farmers’ protest, Ghazipur Border on NH 24 and NH 9 are also closed for traffic from UP to Delhi. “People are advised to avoid NH 24 and use Apsara/Bhopura/DND flyover to enter Delhi,” the officer said.

Farmers’ talks with Government inconclusive

NEW DELHI, Dec 3: The meeting between the representatives of the protesting farmers’ organisations and the Union ministers on Thursday remained inconclusive, though both sides found silver lining after the seven-hour deliberation at Vigyan Bhawan.

The farmers organisations are hopeful that in the next meeting — which is scheduled on December 5 — the issue will be resolved as the Centre on Thursday agreed to review several provisions of the laws. The Centre too is pinning its hope on the next meeting after today’s discussion.

Meanwhile, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar has urged the agitating farmers to withdraw their protests so that people in Delhi do not suffer.

The meeting was held at a cordial environment with 40 leaders representing various farmers’ organisations that are currently protesting the agricultural laws which the Centre projects as reforms but the farmers are worried that minimum support price will be withdrawn.

The farmers pitched for the repeal of the three farm laws, which the Centre had earlier refused.

Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government listened to the grievances of the farmers with an open mind. Some of the points have also been raised in previous meetings. “Government has no ego. It was discussing with farmers with an open mind. Farmers are concerned that the new laws will end APMCs,” the agriculture minister said.

In the meeting, the Centre reiterated to the farmers that the MSP system will continue.

The farmers expressed their reservation over the provision where they are supposed to take their grievances to SDM courts. “Farmers’ unions feel that SDM court is a lower court. Govt will consider this demand,” Tomar said.

The farmers raised concerned over trading outside the purview of mandi. The trading is supposed to take place on the basis of PAN card. The farmers, at today’s meeting, pointed that getting hold of a PAN card is very easy. The Centre has assured the farmers that traders will be registered.

The farmers organisations said there was little progress in the meeting as the government has only assured about MSP.

The farmer leaders said the government accepted that there are certain drawbacks which they will amend. “We said we don’t want amendments but withdrawal of laws. We also demanded that MSP be implemented for certain and law should be made for it,” farmer leader Baldev Singh Sirsa said.

No Headway In Talks With Farmers, Next Meeting On Thursday

NEW DELHI, Dec 1: The farmers' representatives have turned down the Centre's second pitch for a committee to discuss the contentious farm laws, protests against which are intensifying by the day.

"Now is not the time for a committee," sources quoted farmers' representatives as saying at the meeting with three central ministers this evening. A second meeting will be held on December 3. More farmers from Punjab and khaps from Haryana are making their way to the national capital, demanding that the laws be repealed. The farmers have said they will continue the protest if their demands are not accepted.

Agriculture minister Narendra Tomar had suggested the formation of a committee, asking farmers to put down the names of their representatives who would be part of it, sources said. The committee, he said, should also have people from the government and agricultural experts, and should discuss the new agricultural law.

"We do not accept the government's proposal to set up a special committee. We demand that the government cancel the laws related to agrarian reform. We are not going to back down even if the government uses force. Our protest will continue," said Roop Singh, a leader of key farmers' organisation Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Grahan).

The idea of setting up a Special Committee was also floated in the second round of meeting on November 13. But many farmer union leaders are strongly opposed to this and demand a categorical assurance that the three new Laws will be annulled.

Agriculture minister Narendra Tomar, his cabinet colleague Piyush Goyal and junior industry minister Som Prakash are meeting the 35-member team of farmers. The meeting had started shortly after 3 pm at Delhi's Vigyan Bhawan.

"We'll demand the new laws be repealed and a law be brought on MSP. If the government doesn't agree, the protests will continue," Jagjit Singh Dallewal of the Bharatiya Kisan Union said.

This morning, Union home minister Amit Shah had a meeting with defence minister Rajnath Singh, railway minister Piyush Goyal and agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar at the home of BJP chief JP Nadda. This was the third high-level meeting in the last 48 hours.

A group of top sportspersons and coaches from Punjab said they will return their awards and march to Delhi on December 5 in solidarity with the farmers. "They have been holding peaceful agitation for several months. But water cannons and teargas shells were used against them," said Olympic hockey player and Arjuna awardee Sajjan Singh Cheema.

Thousands of farmers, who have braved water cannons, tear gas and police barricades, began their protest last week against the farm laws, aimed at doing away with middlemen and allowing them to sell produce anywhere in the country. Farmers say the laws will deprive them of the minimum prices fixed by the government and leave them at the mercy of corporates.

 

Indian Govt denies promise to vaccinate entire country

NEW DELHI, Dec 1: The government said on Tuesday it has not talked about vaccinating the entire population of the country against the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), as India reported 9,462,809 infections and 137,621 related deaths so far.

“I just want to make this clear that the government has never spoken about vaccinating the entire country. It’s important that we discuss such scientific issues, based on factual information only,” Rajesh Bhushan, the secretary of the Union health ministry said.

Bhushan also said that the average daily positivity rate in India has been 3.72 per cent and with 211 cases per million, India has the lowest cases per million count “among all the big nations.”

While data from the past seven days indicate that cases are increasing in European nations, the cumulative positivity rate has decreased in India, he noted. The cumulative positivity rate fell from 7.15 per cent to 6.69 per cent between November 11 and December 1. The number of recoveries had exceeded the number of new Covid-19 infections in India in the month of November, Bhushan added.

When asked about the allegations against Serum Institute of India’s Covishield vaccine, the health secretary said that the vaccine timelines in India will not be affected in any manner by adverse events. Recently, a volunteer from Chennai had served a legal notice to SII stating ‘sudden collapse of medical condition’ after vaccination, which the SII has denied, saying Covishield is “safe and immunogenic.” Both parties have now served legal notices regarding the issue.

Bhushan said that all subjects sign a consent form before the trials that detail all the possible adverse effects of the vaccine inoculation. The government has also appointed an Institutional Ethics Committee that functions independent of the government and the vaccine manufacturer. This is done to ensure the safety of vaccines since the trials happen over various sites and locations.

The health secretary noted that the ethics committee will submit a report to the central authority, that is Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) in case of any adverse events.

He also said that the Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) monitors the clinical trials on a “day-to-day basis” and reports all adverse events. The DCGI then analyses the reports and would then establish if there are any “one-to-one correlation” between the vaccine and the adverse event, he added.

Where has PM-CARES Fund money gone: Mamata Banerjee

KOLKATTA, Dec 1: West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee on Tuesday accused the Centre of using central agencies to bulldoze the countrys federal structure and sought to know where is the money of Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) fund.

Banerjee said that her government would not work as per whims and fancies of the BJP-led regime at the Centre.

Where has all the money of the PM Cares Fund gone? Does anyone know about the future of these funds? Where are the lakhs of crores of money gone? Why was no audit done? The Centre is lecturing us. What have they given us to combat the Covid pandemic,” she told a press conference after a cabinet meeting.

Charging the Centre with targeting West Bengal as elections are approaching, the Trinamool Congress supremo claimed that law and order situation is better in the state than many other states of the country.

“The Centre is using agencies to bulldoze and threaten us. We are not afraid of them. They (BJP) are not a political party but garbage of lies,” she said.

Elections to the 294-member West Bengal Assembly are due in April-May next year.

About the on-going farmer’s protest in north India, she claimed that no other political party supported the BJP on the issue of farm laws but the saffron party is adamant on bulldozing it.

 



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