Govt-farmers talks inconclusive as unions firm on repeal of laws, Centre wants alternatives; Next round on Jan 8

Laxmi Devi & Jatin Takkar
·8-min read

New Delhi, Jan 4 (PTI) The seventh round of talks between the government and protesting farmers ended inconclusively on Monday as unions stuck to their demand for a complete repeal of three farm laws they find pro-corporate, while the government wanted to discuss only 'problematic' clauses or other alternatives to resolve the over one-month-long deadlock.

The two sides decided to meet again on January 8, after no headway could be made in about one hour of talks in the first session, followed by almost two hours of break and barely 30 minutes of the second session.

Talking to reporters after the meeting, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said he expects positive talks and a possible resolution in the next meeting, but asserted that 'efforts need to be made from both sides for a solution to be reached (taali dono haathon se bajti hai).' He said no outcome could be reached in today's meeting as farmer leaders remained 'adamant' on one issue of repeal of the laws, but the government wanted a clause-wise discussion on the legislations to take forward the talks.

Farmer leaders, however, alleged that it was the government's 'ego problem' that was coming in the way of resolving the issues and said they would not relent on their key demands for the repeal of the three laws and a legal guarantee for the MSP (minimum support price) system for procurement of their crops.

From the very beginning of the meeting, union leaders kept insisting on the repeal of the three contentious farm laws, while the government listed out various benefits of the new Acts, which it has presented as major agri-market reforms aimed at enhancing farmers' income and making their lives easier.

During the break, representatives of protesting farmers had their own food, arranged from langar (community kitchen), as they have been doing for the last few times. However, unlike the last round of talks on December 30, the ministers did not join the union leaders for the langar food and were seen having their own discussion in a separate room during the break.

Farmer leaders said the ministers told them that they need to consult internally and thereafter they would come back to the unions. The union leaders will also have their own meeting on Tuesday to decide their next course of action.

In Monday's talks, another key demand of farmers for a legal guarantee to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) procurement system barely came up for discussion.

Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, are protesting at various Delhi borders for over a month against the three laws. They have stayed put despite heavy rains and waterlogging at protest sites over the last couple of days, besides severe cold weather conditions prevailing in and around the national capital.

Kavitha Kuruganti of Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch, said, 'The government got a clear message from us that farmers will not agree to anything other than the repeal of the laws. The discussion will continue on the repeal of the laws and the MSP issues in the next meeting.' Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal) President Balbir Singh Rajewal said farmers will not agree to anything less than the repeal of three farms laws.

'We will discuss only the MSP issue and the repeal of laws. It is the ego problem of the government that is coming in way of resolving issues,' he said.

BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan) President Joginder Singh Ugrahan said union leaders told the government very clearly that the laws should be repealed, but the ministers said they want clause-by-clause discussion and the laws cannot be repealed.

Abhimanyu Kohar of the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh said, 'The government was beating around the bush on the agenda of the repeal of the laws. Later, the government said let's discuss the laws clause-wise. At one point, Agriculture Minister also said the government is not mentally prepared to repeal the laws.' On the other hand, Tomar said, 'We wanted that the farmer leaders should flag specific clauses in the three laws which they feel can be problematic for them... The government is ready to discuss those with an open heart.' He maintained that the talks took place in a cordial atmosphere.

Later, an official statement said the government is ready to consider all 'positive alternatives', virtually ruling out the repeal of the Acts.

Asked whether the deadlock was due to a trust deficit between the government and the farmers, Tomar said the unions would not have agreed to continue the talks if they did not have the trust.

'The next meeting date of January 8 at 2 PM was decided with mutual agreement. This means farmers have faith in the government and the government has respect and sympathy towards farmers,' he said.

On whether the next meeting would also result in deciding another date, Tomar said the fact that talks are continuing shows that there is a willingness on both sides to find a solution and he remains hopeful of that.

'You are free to think whatever you want to, but I don't have that freedom. Several rounds of talks take place in such situations. We also have to keep in mind the legal point of view as well as the interest of the entire country,' he said.

'There are crores of farmers. They have their own feelings about the pros and cons of the laws. The government is committed towards all farmers and will take a decision keeping in mind the interest of the entire country,' the minister added.

To a question about parallel talks with other groups that are supporting the laws, the minister said the government's commitment is towards all farmers of the country.

Kohar, also a member of the umbrella body of farmers group, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, said Tomar informed the union leaders that the government would discuss the matter with other farmers as many from various states are supporting the laws.

'Tomar said the government has seen from the point of view of those farmers supporting the laws, but we told him that those supporting the laws are working for seed companies,' Kohar said.

'They said they have got the support of one lakh farmers from Haryana and have given names of FPOs which do not exist on the ground. About 3 lakh farmers supporting the laws are working as agents of seed companies.' Kohar said.

The protesting farmers fear that the new laws, enacted in September 2020, would weaken the MSP and mandi systems and leave them at the mercy of big corporates. The government has said that these apprehensions are misplaced.

Besides Tomar, Railways, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash, an MP from Punjab, are also part of the ministerial group holding talks with the representatives of 41 farmer unions.

Kohar said the government asked for alternatives from the union leaders, but it was told very clearly there was no alternative to their demand for the repeal of the laws.

'We are not changing our goal post,' he said.

The meeting at Vigyan Bhawan in the heart of the national capital began with both sides paying tributes to the farmers who have lost their lives during the ongoing protest.

A government statement later said the ministers also extended new year greetings to the union leaders at the start of the meeting.

Kohar said the union leaders feel the government's intention towards farmers is not right.

'We told them 70 farmers have sacrificed their lives. How many more lives does it want? You want more farmers to die?' he said.

On December 30, the sixth round of talks was held between the government and the farmer unions, where some common ground was reached on two demands -- decriminalisation of stubble-burning and continuation of power subsidies.

However, no breakthrough could be reached on the two main demands of the protesting farmers -- a repeal of the three recent farm laws and a legal guarantee to the MSP procurement system.

Asked why new dates were being fixed when the government has made it clear that it will not repeal the laws, Tomar said: 'The government has made the laws in the interest of farmers and the Modi government is sympathetic towards farmers.' 'The way the discussion is happening, I can say that farmers also want the government to find a solution so that they can end their protest... 'I feel there will be an early resolution,' Tomar said.

On whether it was possible to set up a committee as suggested by the Supreme Court, Tomar said it was not right to comment on court-related matters.

Union leaders said they decided to have separate lunch this time because a wrong impression went out last time when pictures of some farmers with ministers emerged.

'Therefore this time, we asked farmers to have lunch separately and not go to ministers and take photos. But, we never objected to ministers having food with us. We cannot stop anyone from having Guruji ka langar,' Kohar said. PTI LUX JTR MJH BJ BJ