Ninth round of farm talks inconclusive
The ninth round of discussions between the Union government and farm unions protesting three agricultural laws failed to make any progress on Friday, but both sides agreed to meet again on January 19 despite the stalemate.
The farm unions representing tens of thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, who have launched a mass agitation on the borders of the national capital, are demanding that the government scrap three laws approved by Parliament in September.
The laws are aimed at freeing agricultural markets from government restrictions, which the farmers say will leave them at the mercy of big corporations.
Like several earlier rounds of discussions, the farm unions demanded that the government commit to complete rollback of the laws.
At Friday’s talks, the government, which has ruled out a repeal of the laws, proposed that the 41-member farmers’ delegation form a “smaller group” with “people who have expertise on laws”.
“There were discussions on the three laws but we could not arrive at any decision. We suggested that the farmers form a smaller group with outside people who have expertise on the issue, but the unions rejected our suggestion,” agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said.
There was a discussion on Essential Commodities Amendment Act 2020, said Kavitha Kuruganti, a farm leader who represents the unions at the talks.
At the talks, which were attended by two other Union ministers — Piyush Goyal and Som Parkash — Goyal defended the new amendments in the act but signalled the government’s willingness to make changes.
Goyal told the unions that “some changes can be made in the Act too without quite saying that (what specific) amendments will be made,” according to Kuruganti.
The Essential Commodities Amendment Act 2020, one of the laws farmers want scrapped, allows traders to stockpile large quantities of food stocks for future sales. The government argues that the changes were necessary to attract private investment in warehouses and food-processing plants.
According to an official, the government suggested that it could review the stock limits proposed under the amended law.
“We have said that the amendments should be removed and earlier Act restored because the new changes will allow hoarding and black-marketing of essential items,” said Hanan Mollah, a senior farm leader.
The agriculture minister said the government suggested that the farm unions form a smaller, focused group that should evaluate specific issues in the laws and “present them before the government so that these could be discussed”.
The government also repeated its proposal that farmers should go through the three laws “section by section” and list their objections. The farmers rejected both the suggestions.
The Supreme Court on January 12 kept the three contentious laws in abeyance to “assuage the hurt feelings of farmers” and also formed a committee to look into the farmers’ grievances over the laws.
The farmers have rejected the court’s offer, saying they want a full repeal of the laws, not a temporary ban on their implementation.
“The government welcomes the Supreme Court’s decisions. We will present our point of view before the committee appointed by the court,” Tomar said.
At the opening of today’s talks, the farm unions raised the issue of alleged harassment and arrest of their colleagues on trumped up charges in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. “Farmer unions wanted the Centre to address and prevent it,” said Kuruganti, the lone woman representative of the farm unions at the talks.
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- The government's statement came in response to a question by the leader of opposition in the assembly about the number of farmers who died by suicide.
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