NEW DELHI: The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of agitating farmer unions, Friday demanded that the government start vaccination centres and provide related facilities at the protests sites.
This is for the first time that the union has made such a demand.
It even asked farmers protesting at the various border points of Delhi to wear masks and follow necessary COVID-19 guidelines to stem the spread of the virus.
Interestingly, its leaders in the vulnerable age group had earlier said that they are not "afraid of COVID" and "won't take jabs".
However, they had said that they would not stop any farmer camping at the borders from getting vaccinated as it was an individual choice.
Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have been camping at three Delhi border points -- Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur -- for over four months, demanding a repeal of the three agri reform laws enacted by the Centre last September.
"We appeal to the farmers to follow the necessary norms and guidelines like wearing masks and doing their bit to stop the spread of the virus.
At the same time, we also request the government to fulfil its responsibility by starting vaccination centres and providing necessary facilities at protest places," an SKM statement said.
The demand comes on a day when India added a record 2,17,353 new coronavirus infections taking the tally of COVID-19 cases to 1,42,91,917, while active cases surpassed the 15-lakh mark, according to the Union health ministry's updated data.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, in view of the unprecedented surge in the capital, on Thursday had announced a curfew this weekend and the closure of malls, gymnasiums and auditoriums till April 30 as part of sweeping restrictions to break the chain of the infection.
However, the SKM accused the ruling BJP at the Centre of not acknowledging coronavirus during its several election rallies and bringing it up on programs held against the ruling government.
It also warned the government to not create an atmosphere of "fear" among farmers and spread "fake news" -- such as 'forcibly shifting the farmers' dharna'.
"Efforts are being made to create an atmosphere of fear among the farmers by spreading fake news, which the farmers will not tolerate and will also give a befitting reply," it said.
Reiterating its demands of repealing the agricultural laws and enacting a law on Minimum Support Price (MSP), the union appealed to the protesting farmers to continue with their "peaceful strike" and requested more farmers to reach Delhi borders as soon they get done with the harvesting and procurement work.
The Centre says the new farm laws will free farmers from middlemen, giving them more options to sell their crops.
The protesting farmers, however, say the laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of MSP and do away with the ''mandi'' (wholesale market) system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.