Ministers meet farmer groups to break deadlock over agri laws; Unions insist on repeal

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New Delhi, Jan 4 (PTI) The seventh round of talks between protesting unions and three central ministers got underway here on Monday afternoon to resolve an over-a-month-long impasse over farmers' agitation against three farm laws, but representatives of farmer groups stuck to their demand for the repeal of the Acts.

As the two sides took a lunch break after about one hour of talks, sources said the government also remained firm on not repealing the laws and is believed to have suggested a panel to take the matter forward.

In the first hour of talks, the two sides were yet to discuss another key demand of farmers for a legal guarantee to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) procurement system.

The 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 separately during the break, which lasted for more than one and half hours.

The two sides got back together to resume their discussions at around 5.15 pm.

Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait, who is participating in the meeting, told PTI over the phone during the break that the first hour of discussion remained focussed on the three laws.

'Our demand is the repeal of the laws. We will not agree to any alternatives such as the setting of the committee,' he said.

Asked if there could be a concrete outcome from the meeting, Tikait said, 'I don't think so. They have to take back the laws for us to end the protest and go back to our homes.' 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.

The talks are still on and there has not yet been any discussion on the second agenda pertaining to giving legal backing to MSP, Tikait said during the break.

Another union representative, Kavitha Kurungati of Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch, said, 'The standoff continues as the government is talking about benefits of the laws and we are asking for the repeal of those laws.' No discussion has yet happened on the MSP, she said about the first hour of the meeting.

Enacted in September 2020, the government has presented these laws as major farm reforms and aimed at increasing farmers' income.

During the meeting, the government listed various benefits from the three laws, enacted a few months ago, but farmers kept insisting that the legislation must be withdrawn to address their apprehensions that the new Acts would weaken the MSP and mandi systems and leave them at the mercy of big corporates.

The government has maintained that these apprehensions are misplaced and has ruled out repealing the laws.

Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Railways, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash, who is an MP from Punjab, are holding the talks with the representatives of 41 farmer unions at the Vigyan Bhawan.

The meeting began with paying respects to the farmers who lost their lives during the ongoing protest, sources 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.

On Sunday, Tomar met Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and discussed the government strategy to resolve the current crisis at the earliest, sources said.

Tomar discussed with Singh all possible options to find a 'middle path' to resolve the crisis, they added.

While several opposition parties and people from other walks of life have come out in support of the farmers, some farmer groups have also met the agriculture minister over the last few weeks to extend their support to the three laws.

Last month, the government had sent a draft proposal to the protesting farmer unions, suggesting seven-eight amendments to the new laws and a written assurance on the MSP procurement system. The government has ruled out a repeal of the three agri laws.

The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), in the meantime, issued a press statement condemning the police action against protesting farmers in Punjab and Haryana and a ban on protests and dharnas imposed by the Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh government.

It also said that an affidavit filed by Reliance Industries in the Punjab and Haryana High Court was 'a ploy to save its business'. PTI LUX JTR MJH BJ BJ