Amid face-off between farmers and the government over the new agri laws, former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on Thursday wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind, returning his Padma Vibhushan honour to protest "the betrayal of the farmers by the government of India".
"I write this letter to return the Padam Vibhushan award in protest against the betrayal of the farmers by the Government of India and against the shocking indifference and contempt with which the Govt is treating the ongoing peaceful and democratic agitation against the Farm Acts," Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) patriarch said in his letter to the President.
Earlier, several former sportspersons including Padma Shri and Arjuna awardees said they will return their awards in protest against the "force" used against the peasants en route to Delhi.
Among them are Padma Shri and Arjuna awardee wrestler Kartar Singh, Arjuna awardee basketball player Sajjan Singh Cheema and Arjuna awardee hockey player Rajbir Kaur.
They said they will proceed to Delhi on December 5 and will place their awards outside the Rashtrapati Bhavan. They slammed the Centre and Haryana government for using water cannons and teargas against the protesting farmers to stop them from going to Delhi.
Enacted in September, the laws have been presented by the government as major reforms in the agriculture sector by removing middlemen and allowing farmers to sell anywhere in the country.
However, the protesting farmers have been worried that the new laws will eliminate the safety cushion of a Minimum Support Price (MSP) and procurement system, while rendering ineffective the mandi system that ensures earnings for various stakeholders in the farm sector.
Farmers' groups met three Union ministers on Thursday for fourth round of talks amid an ongoing protest. Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Railways, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash, who is an MP from Punjab, are holding talks with the representatives of 35 farmers' unions at the Vigyan Bhawan in the national capital.
On December 1, talks between both the sides ended in a stalemate after farmers' groups rejected the government's suggestion of a new committee to look into issues raised by farmers protesting against the new laws.
On Wednesday, agitating farmers demanded that the Centre convene a special session of Parliament and repeal the new farm laws as they threatened to block roads in Delhi and "take more steps" if it failed to do so.
(With PTI inputs)