Farmers reject govt’s offer on panel, talks deadlocked
Farmers protesting against a set of laws they say will hurt their incomes agreed, at a meeting led by three Union ministers on Tuesday, to continue discussions with the government later this week, but rejected a proposal from the Centre for a five-member committee of officials, economists and farmers’ representatives to hold future negotiations.
Farm union leaders from 35 organisations based in Punjab and Haryana met agriculture minister Narendra Tomar, railways, food and consumer affairs minister Piyush Goyal and minister of state for commerce Som Prakash for over three hours at the capital’s Vigyan Bhawan, as protests by thousands of farmers on Delhi’s borders entered the sixth day.
The government and the farm leaders agreed to meet again on December 3 to for discussions, the government said in a statement.
Behind the scenes, the talks were facilitated by several rounds of phone conversations between Union home minister Amit Shah and key farm union leaders over the course of the past two days, which led to the government advancing the date of the talks, initially scheduled for December 3.
“We were initially reluctant for another round of talks. Home minister Amit Shah talked to us several times by telephone. We agreed on the ground that the government should rethink the three farm laws,” said Jagmohan Singh, a leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) and working committee member of the All-India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), the platform spearheading the agitation.
The farmers did not agree to the government’s proposal for a committee to carry out future talks because “all 35 farmers’ leaders will have to be present in all future discussions”, said Balbir Singh Rajewal, a farm leader who leads the Rajewal faction of the BKU.
“During the deliberations, the Union agriculture and farmers welfare minister proposed to constitute an expert committee to put forth the issues of farmers so as to resolve them with mutual consent but the representative of the farmers’ union suggested that all the representatives will attend further round of discussions with the government to resolve the matter amicably,” an official statement at the end of the talks said.
Agriculture minister Tomar started Tuesday’s discussions by spelling out the government’s “seriousness to deal with farmers’ problems” as well as the resolve to “listen to farmers and their demands”, an official said, requesting anonymity. Agriculture secretary Sanjay Agarwal also outlined the government’s initiatives in the farm sector.
The agriculture minister suggested that farm leaders identify specific issues related to the three farm reform laws and share these with the government on Wednesday for consideration. “These issues will be discussed during the fourth round of meeting to be held on December 3,” the official cited above said.
Darshan Pal, a farm leader representing the Krantikari Kisan Union, said the farmers were ready with their key demands.
“We are still saying we don’t want these laws. However, the government insisted that the laws were in the interest of farmers. We will discuss the outcome of today’s meeting when we go back,” Pal said.
Farmers want the Narendra Modi government to revoke three contentious laws approved by Parliament in September.
The laws essentially change the way India’s farmers do business by creating free markets, as opposed to a network of decades-old, government-controlled agricultural markets. 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.
Together, the laws allow businesses to freely trade farm produce outside the so-called government-controlled “mandi system”, permit private traders to stockpile large quantities of essential commodities for future sales, which earlier only government-approved agents could, and lay down new rules for contract farming.
Farmers say the reforms would make them vulnerable to exploitation by big corporations, erode their bargaining power and weaken the government’s procurement system, whereby the government buys staples, such as wheat and rice, at guaranteed prices.
On Monday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, speaking in Varanasi, slammed Opposition parties for misleading farmers and defended his farm laws as “historic”. He said the opposition had created unfounded fears in the minds of the farmers and insisted that support prices and procurement of staples by the government would continue
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