Farm unions discuss key proposals from Centre, likely to call off stir

In the letter sent through the Union home ministry, the Centre said it was willing to accept the major demands of the unions provided the farmers end their protests and return home.
Farm leaders who took part in the meeting on Tuesday said SKM “appreciated” the Centre’s move, but that there were still some sticking points, and discussions will resume on Wednesday.(ANI Photo)
Farm leaders who took part in the meeting on Tuesday said SKM “appreciated” the Centre’s move, but that there were still some sticking points, and discussions will resume on Wednesday.(ANI Photo)
Updated on Dec 08, 2021 07:06 AM IST
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By, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

The Union government and the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), a platform of farm unions, appeared to be moving closer to an agreement to end a yearlong protest by cultivators, as the farm body on Tuesday discussed a set of draft proposals sent by the Centre but deferred a decision on calling off the agitation to Wednesday.

In the letter sent through the Union home ministry, the Centre said it was willing to accept the major demands of the unions provided the farmers end their protests and return home. Though SKM responded that it would not accept any conditions from the Centre to end its agitation, the two sides appeared close to clinching a deal.

Farm leaders who took part in the meeting on Tuesday said SKM “appreciated” the Centre’s move, but that there were still some sticking points, and discussions will resume on Wednesday.

After nearly 14 months of protests on highways by farmers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 19 announced that his government would withdraw three agricultural reform laws farmers say were disastrous for their livelihoods. The laws were repealed by Parliament on November 29.

The laws sought to open up agricultural markets to greater corporate participation. Farmers argued the changes would pave the way for the government to stop buying grains at assured prices.

Also Read| Farmers protest: SC adjourns plea seeking removal of protesters to Jan 2022

Among the key demands of the farm unions is a legislation guaranteeing minimum prices for farm produce. The Centre’s letter proposed a committee on minimum support prices, or MSP, comprising central and state government officials, farmers’ representatives including members of SKM, and agricultural scientists.

SKM on December 4 named five members to negotiate with the Centre to resolve pending demands by farmers. They panel consists of farm leaders Ashok Dhawale, Balbir Singh Rajewal, Gurnam Singh Chaduni, Shiv Kumar Kakkaji, and Yudhvir Singh.

One of the other principal demands of the agitating farmers is that all cases registered against protesters in various states be withdrawn unconditionally. In its proposal sent to SKM, the Centre said the BJP-ruled governments of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have agreed that all cases against farmers would be withdrawn as soon as farmers announced an end to their movement.

“The draft proposals linked the withdrawal of cases against farmers, which is a major demand by us, to an end to the ongoing protests. The SKM doesn’t agree to this condition. The government should first withdraw all cases,” Inderjit Singh, an SKM leader from Haryana who was part of the meeting, said.

SKM leaders, however, added that they welcomed the government’s offer and were hopeful that further negotiations would help bride the chasm.

The Centre also said that the governments of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh agreed in principle to compensate the families of farmers who died during the protests -- another major demand of the farmers, who sought monetary compensation for nearly 700 farmers who have died from heat, cold, and exhaustion in the yearlong agitation. The Union government also referred to the Punjab government’s public announcement to compensate the kin of dead farmers.

The Centre further said that it would discuss all stakeholders before moving the Electricity Amendment Bill 2020 in Parliament. The government has listed the bill to be taken up in the current session of Parliament. Farmers want the bill withdrawn, as they think it contains provisions that will increase costs of agricultural power supply.

The Union government also agreed to end all criminal liability of farmers for burning crop residue contained in a law to curb pollution in the National Capital Region.

“While the central government’s proposals seemed to agree to these demands of farmers, there is some lack of clarity. Further discussions are needed. So we will again meet tomorrow,” said Rajewal, a farm leader and one of the members nominated by SKM to join the government panel.

Also Read| Rahul seeks compensation, jobs for kin of farmers who died during agitation

SKM also said on Tuesday it wanted more information the terms of reference of the committee proposed by the Centre on the issue of MSP. “We don’t know whether the committee’s mandate is to enable a legislation on MSP, which is what we have demanded. We will seek a clarification from the Centre on this,” Inderjit Singh, a farm leader from Haryana, said.

On the issue of penalties on farmers burning paddy remnants, a major cause of air pollution in the region, SKM leader Gurnam Singh Charuni said all existing cases must be withdrawn. “The law should be clear that farmers will not face any criminal and civil liabilities for burning parali (paddy stubble),” Charuni said. The Centre’s letter assured the farmers that there would be criminal charges for stubble burning but did not specify its position on penalties.

The Modi government’s decision to rescind the contentious farm laws and urgency to resolve pending demands of cultivators come as the BJP prepares to fight upcoming state elections, especially in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Uttarakhand. In Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, protesting farmers are an influential voting bloc. In the prosperous sugarcane belt of western UP, farmers had put up a stiff resistance to the now-repealed farm laws, led by Rakesh Tikait of the influential Bharatiya Kisan Union.

Hundreds of farmers are still entrenched in at least five protest camps on the borders of the national Capital, choking key highways. The protests have kept police and civil officials on their toes for over 14 months.

“Farmers now have organised themselves into a political force and forced the government to repeal the laws. If the issue of MSP is not amicably resolved, there is a potential for renewed agitation and if farmers feel cheated after withdrawing their agitation, it could influence their political preferences in upcoming state elections,” said Sudhir Panwar of University of Lucknow.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Zia Haq reports on public policy, economy and agriculture. Particularly interested in development economics and growth theories.

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