No headway as farmers tell Amit Shah they want full rollback
Union home minister Amit Shah met a group of 14 leaders of the agricultural community in the Capital on Tuesday evening, but their informal negotiations a day ahead of crucial delegation-level talks between the government and farm unions to resolve the ongoing farmers’ agitation failed to reach a breakthrough.
At the meeting at the state-run Indian Council of Agriculture Research’s (ICAR) Pusa Complex, Shah said agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar would present a concrete proposal in Wednesday’s talks and propose key amendments in the contentious agricultural laws that have triggered protests, according to farmers’ leaders who reiterated that their only demand is the scrapping of the legislation that liberalise farm trade.
“We have rejected the proposal. And we will now discuss amongst ourselves whether to go ahead with tomorrow’s (Wednesday’s) talks...what’s the point?” said Darshan Pal of the Krantikari Kisan Union, signalling the uncertainty surrounding the future of the dialogue process.
Farmers’ leaders said a meeting of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella platform under which various farm unions are spearheading the protests at Delhi’s borders, will hold a meeting at 10am Wednesday to decide their course of action.
In Wednesday’s meeting, Shah said the government would propose amendments related to a fee structure in notified agriculture produce market committees (APMCs), stricter provisions to safeguard farmers’ land rights, strengthening of notified markets, and a guarantee on minimum support prices (MSPs), according to Hanan Mollah of the Kisan Sabha.
There was no official word from the government on what transpired at the talks.
Wednesday’s meeting, if it takes place, will be the sixth time the two sides will be holding talks over farmers’ demand of scrapping the three pro-market agricultural laws they say will hurt their incomes and benefit large corporations. Farmers on Tuesday enforced a national shutdown from 11am to 3pm, which was peaceful.
At least two farmers invited to talks with Shah said before the meeting they expected the government to offer concessions, such as amendments to the three laws, but said they would accept nothing short of a repeal of the laws.
Shiv Kumar Sharma Kakaji of the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, a farmer union leader, said before heading into the huddle that farmers would repeat their demand to withdraw the laws.
“The government is expected to suggest amendments. Our stand is that we want the laws withdrawn,” he said. “One of the issues we will raise before the home minister is the arrest of several farmers in and around Delhi, including Karol Bagh,” he added.
Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, are protesting a set of pro-market agricultural laws by camping on Delhi’s borders. The farmers have stocked up on months of supplies, preparing to dig in for months.
The government pushed the three laws in September to deregulate farm markets and permit private traders to stockpile large quantities of essential commodities for future sales, which officials say will spur investments in supply chains. Farmers in Punjab and Haryana depend heavily on decades-old tightly regulated markets to sell staples at assured prices to the government.
Farmers say government-controlled notified markets will collapse due to competition from deregulated markets under the new laws, as trade in the latter will be free of any fees or service charges.
Since free markets, which could even be a farmer’s doorstep or a warehouse under the new laws, don’t have any applicable fees for trading, farmers feel traders will abandon traditional markets. Large traders and intermediaries control these markets and exert influence over farmers. They buy their produce and often provide credit to farmers, creating dependencies.
“The government is likely to present a plan spelling out specific measures to strengthen notified markets, such a fee structure so that both new free markets and notified markets can co-exist in a true competitive spirit,” an official said.
Rakesh Tikait, the leader of Bharatiya Kisan Union’s Tikait faction, a farmers’ union, said: “Efforts to resolve the farmers’ protests are going on. Our bandh today has been successful and peaceful.”
Although previous rounds of discussions led by agriculture minister Tomar have showed no signs of ending the impasse, the home minister has been informally talking to farmers’ representatives to facilitate a solution.
The third round of talks was facilitated by several rounds of phone conversations between Shah and key farm union leaders, which took place on December 1.