India's agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar adjusts his face mask during a press conference with representatives of foreign media organizations in New Delhi, India.(AP)
India's agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar adjusts his face mask during a press conference with representatives of foreign media organizations in New Delhi, India.(AP)

‘Will discuss with open mind’: Govt again writes to farmers

In a new letter to over 30 farm leaders, govt urges them to suggest a convenient date to resume talks on laws.
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON DEC 25, 2020 05:54 AM IST

The Union government has invited farmers for talks again, a day after farm unions rejected the government’s request to a senior farm leader to suggest a date for the resumption of negotiations on three contentious farm laws.

In a letter to farm unions, the government said it was ready to not only discuss existing proposals but also new demands the farmers may have.

“If there are any new issues other than the proposals discussed on December 3, then the government is ready to discuss everything with an open mind,” joint secretary Vivek Agrawal of the agriculture ministry wrote in a letter to over 30 farm leaders.

The bureaucrat, who wrote on behalf of farm minister Narendra Tomar, said the new farm laws were not related to minimum prices for agricultural produce in any way and the mechanism of minimum support prices would continue.

The government reiterated its assurance on MSPs, continuance of agricultural power subsidy and a solution to stubble burning. Farm unions on protest against three recent laws said they were not inclined to restart negotiations with the government until it draws up a new agenda, presenting an increasingly difficult challenge to a government grappling to find a way to end the month-old agitation.

A massive farmers’ rebellion was set off by three laws pushed through by the government in September that allow agribusinesses to trade with minimal regulation, permit traders to stockpile large quantities of food commodities for economies of scale and lay down new contract farming rules.

Farmers say the new rules favour big corporations to whom they will lose business and gradually end the system of state-set minimum prices.

Thursday’s outreach is the third written invite the government has sent out to protesting farmers, following five rounds of formal negotiations that ended on December 8, when farmers decided to call off further negotiations after a meeting with home minister Amit Shah, claiming a stalemate.

The back-and-forth of letters from both sides has only made the deadlock appear intractable. Each official offer to carry on negotiations has been rejected by the farmers on the grounds that the government has avoided directly addressing their stand on scrapping the entire gamut of reforms approved by Parliament in September. While the government has made eight proposals, farmers’ union have said the government hasn’t made any concrete assurance.

On December 20, the government responded to the farmers’ written rejection of proposals by saying that farmers should clarify in detail what their specific proposals. “The reply sent by you through your email to us is very brief. It is unclear whether the views expressed in that mail are your personal opinion or the collective view of all the farm organisations,” the government’s letter signed by joint secretary Vivek Agarwal to Darshan Pal, a senior leader representing the farm unions.

Pal said the unions were not averse to talking but they could not “set a fresh date” for the talks because the proposals the government presented were “not acceptable”. “The government has to revise them because we rejected these proposals on December 5,” he said.

“It’s clearly been a classic standoff. No one wants to blink first at least on the core issue of discussing a possible repeal or suspension of the laws, which the farmers want. I believe the talks can still be revived if the government can bring a model to compensate farmers for lower prices of produce, if not a law on MSP,” said RS Manu, a retired economist of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

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