Centre says can put farm laws on hold for 1.5 years
The Union government on Wednesday proposed to suspend three contentious agricultural laws for one-and-a-half years, taking a step back to try and assuage farmers with its most far-reaching proposal yet to end months-long protests against the legislation passed in Parliament in September.
In the 10th round of negotiations with a 41-member delegation representing protesting farm unions on Wednesday, the government said it will move an affidavit before the Supreme Court to put the laws in abeyance till a solution to the farmers’ demands is found. Leaders of major farm unions who took part in the talks said they will discuss the government’s offer on January 21, and make their stand clear when the next round of talks takes place on January 22.
To discuss the farmers’ issues, which include a law guaranteeing assured prices for their produce, the government also told farm unions that it proposed to set up a committee of representatives as well as experts who should be nominated both by the protesters and the government to examine “all agitation-related issues”.
“The talks were held on the solemn occasion of Guru Parab, the birth anniversary of (Sikh) Guru Govind Singh. Farmers have agreed to discuss our proposal and I believe that we will move towards success on January 22, when we meet again,” Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters after the talks concluded at Delhi’s Vigyan Bhavan on Wednesday.
Farm unions have not rejected the government’s offer outright, unlike in the past, and said it was a proposal worth discussing, which offers a glimmer of hope to end the standoff. The unions will hold a two-tier discussion on January 21 to discuss the government’s proposal.
The government has pushed a set of agricultural laws to ease restrictions in farm trade, allow traders to stockpile large quantities of food stocks for future sales and lay down a national framework for contract farming based on written agreements.
Farmers staging a massive protest on several of Delhi’s border points say the laws will erode their bargaining power and leave them at the mercy of big corporations. The agriculture minister said the government proposed to put the laws on hold till such time a committee representing both farm unions and the government finalised its “recommendations on what should be done with the laws”.
On January 12, after two days of deliberation, the Supreme Court had suspended the farm laws. Judges dealing with the case also appointed a committee to look into farmers’ grievances over the laws.
Tomar said the Supreme Court had put the laws in abeyance for a short time. “Our proposal is to put the laws on hold for a full year-and-a half or even more till a solution is found.” He added that if farmers accepted the proposal in principle, then the government would begin work on setting up the committee and its modalities, adding that the laws would be suspended so that the panel could find a settlement.
“The government has proposed to put the laws on hold for one-and-half years but at the same time, it has accepted that the time frame could be fixed according to a mutually agreeable duration. That could be two or even three years,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, a farmers’ representative.
According to senior farm leader Balbir Singh Rajewal, the farm unions “feel the proposal is worth discussing but a decision will only be collectively taken and thorough discussions will take place tomorrow”.
“We told the government we still want a repeal but we will discuss the government’s offer,” he said.
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