Farm talks fail again, Centre says no repeal
The seventh round of talks between the Centre and farm leaders demanding scrapping of three contentious farm laws ended in a stalemate on Monday, as three Union ministers part of the negotiations said it was not possible to commit to a rollback of the legislation without wider consultations with higher authorities.
Both sides, however, agreed to continue the talks on January 8. The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a platform of farm unions, has hardened its stand, saying on Saturday that thousands of farmers will drive into the Capital in their tractors to hold their own Republic Day parade if their demands are not met by January 26.
“We requested the unions to review the laws clause by clause but the unions were steadfast in their demand for a repeal. As such, we could not arrive at any decision but both sides agreed to meet again on January 8,” farm minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters after the meet.
Farm union leaders said they were prepared to intensify their agitation and added that the government was not prepared to budge from its stand. “The government is saying 50% of the demands have been met. For us, 85% of the demands are left.The agitation will become more intense now,” said Darshan Pal, a senior leader of the agitation.
The government ruled out a decision to repeal the three agricultural laws, asking farm union leaders to point out what they considered objectionable in the legislation, a farm leader said, resulting in a standoff. It also wanted to discuss the demand of a law guaranteeing assured prices for 23 farm commodities, known as minimum support prices, or MSP. “The government in multiple ways wanted us to discuss the laws. We said we want a repeal. The ministers said they need to consult within the government for any possible repeal of the laws. There was no discussion on MSP,” said farm leader Kavitha Kuruganti.
The government, represented by Union ministers Tomar, Piyush Goyal and Som Prakash, told participating farm leaders that it will review any clause farmers have a problem with.
“The government said it wanted to go clause by clause of the three farm laws. It said laws can’t be repealed. We told them that there is only one way, which is to repeal the laws and bring a law guaranteeing minimum support prices,” farm leader Joginder Singh Ugrahan said.
Unlike in the last round, the Union ministers did not share lunch brought by the farmers. The ministers, government officials and representatives of farmers observed two-minute silence for farmers who died during the ongoing protest.
Since there was no headway in the first session of talks on Monday, the two sides took a lunch break. At the start of the post-lunch session, Tomar said he wanted to discuss the proposal on a law to ensure MSP. The farmers rejected the call for discussions on this demand.
The sixth round of talks on December 30 made some headway in the standoff between the Union government and protesting farm unions, with the Centre agreeing to spare farmers of heavy fines for crop-residue burning, as provided for in an anti-pollution ordinance, and to continue the current mechanism of giving subsidised power for agricultural use.The two principal demands of the repeal of the three new farm laws and a legal guarantee of MSP were deferred till January 8.
Farm unions have launched one of the largest strikes in decades to demand that the Centre revoke the three contentious laws.They essentially change the way India’s farmers do business by creating free markets, as opposed to a network of decades-old government marketplaces, allowing traders to stockpile essential commodities for future sales and laying down a national framework for contract farming.
These laws are The 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. Tomar said he remains hopeful of a solution in the next meeting on January 8, but asserted that efforts need to be made from both sides for a solution to be reached. Farmer leaders, however, alleged that it was the government’s “ego problem” that was coming in the way of resolving the issues and they insisted they would not relent on their key demands for the repeal of the three laws and a legal guarantee for MSP.
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have hunkered down at various Delhi border points for over a month against the three laws.They have stayed put despite heavy rains and waterlogging at protest sites over the last couple of days, besides severe cold weather conditions prevailing in and around the national capital.
Yogendra Yadav, one of the leaders coordinating the protests, said the only way forward was to scale up the agitation. “After seven months of protests and seven rounds of talks, the government is still asking if farmers really wanted a repeal of the laws? Do you think the government is any serious?” he asked. The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) criticised the Haryana government for “severe repression” of protesting farmers and warned of escalation of the anger among the people and intensification of the movement if it does not stop. “Yesterday farmers who had advanced towards Delhi from Shahjahanpur in a peaceful manner were physically obstructed and later tear-gassed in Rewari along with spray of chilly,” Avik Saha, secretary of AIKSCC, said.
Farm leaders said they will implement their new protest agenda, which includes picketing of Raj Bhawans, toll plazas and boycott of goods and services of the Reliance and Adani groups. “It seemed the government today was trying to assess if farmers would agree to anything other than repeal,” Kuruganti added. The AIKSCC, in a statement, said it criticised senior minister Nitin Gadkari for “speaking against the demands of farmers on the eve of talks, leaving little chance of success. Gadkari said yesterday that the core problem is surplus food and MSP higher than open markets”.
RS Mani, retired economist of the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, said: “It appears that the government has prepared a proposal on assured prices since it was keen to discuss it. There are options like deficiency price payments, etc. However, the solution to a repeal of the laws requires a political decision.”
(With PTI inputs)