Second Centre-farmers' talks inconclusive; MSP assurance fails as unions demand complete rollback of three laws
Protests against the Centre's new farm laws have also gained momentum in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh as farmer organisations blocked roads and held demonstrations and rallies in solidarity with those gathered at Delhi's borders as part of their 'Delhi Chalo' march
As farmers continued their protest for the eighth day at Delhi's borders against the Centre's farm laws, the second talk between farmers unions and three Central ministers remained inconclusive on Thursday.
While the farmers were firm on their demand for the withdrawal of the laws, Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar appealed to the protesters to call off their agitation, saying that the laws will not affect the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system.
The third meeting between farmers unions and the Centre has been scheduled for 2 pm on Saturday, Tomar said.
Farmer union leaders, who came out of the meeting venue shouting slogans, said the talks remained deadlocked. Some farmers representative even told PTI that they will not attend any further meetings if no solution is provided today.
"Discussions are over from our side. Our leaders have said they will not attend further meetings if a solution is not given today by the government," Pratibha Shinde, AIKSCC (All India Kishan Sangharsh Coordination Committee) working group member and president of Lok Sangharsh Morcha was quoted as saying by PTI.
Another farmer leader Kulwant Singh Sandhu said the government made many proposals, including on MSP and the procurement system, which will be discussed among the farmer organisations on Friday, before the next meeting with the government.
Thursday's meeting was held between representatives of 40 farmers' groups and Union ministers Tomar, Piyush Goyal and Som Parkash.
Enacted in September, the laws have been presented by the government as major reforms in the agriculture sector by removing middlemen and allowing farmers to sell anywhere in the country. The protesting farmers, however, are worried that the new laws will eliminate the safety cushion of MSP and procurement system while rendering ineffective the mandi system that ensures earnings for various stakeholders in the farm sector.
On Wednesday, agitating farmers had demanded that the Centre convene a special session of Parliament and repeal the new farm laws as they threatened to block roads in Delhi and "take more steps" if it failed to do so.
During the discussions on Thursday, farmer leaders present at the meeting refused the lunch offered by the government and chose to eat the food ferried in a van from the Singhu border, where thousands of farmers are sitting in protest against the new agriculture laws.
"How can we have lunch offered by the government when our fellow farmers are sitting on roads," said AIKSCC's Shinde, whose organisation is among the farmers' groups engaged in the talks.
Meanwhile, actor-singer Diljit Dosanjh and actor Kangana Ranaut sparred over the farmers' protest on Thursday, with Ranaut falsely identifying an elderly lady at the protest as Shaheen Bagh activist Bilkis Bano, aka Bilkis Dadi. Dosanjh responded to her tweet with a BBC news clip identifying the protester as Mahinder Kaur.
Additionally, in an act of solidarity with the protesting farmers, former Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal returned his Padma Vibhushan award on Thursday. Badal's move comes over two months after his Shiromani Akali Dal party pulled out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre, protesting against the three farm laws which deregulate the sale of crops.
Dissident Akali leader and Rajya Sabha member Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa also said he will return the Padma Bhushan conferred on him last year. Some former Punjab sportsmen too have threatened to return their awards.
Little progress so far, but will ensure rollback of laws, say farmers
While the eight-hour-long parley with the government yielded no result on Thursday, farmer representatives said that they have demanded a complete rollback of the laws and are they are "hopeful" of a favourable outcome in the coming days.
"Talks have made little progress. In the first half, it seemed that today's meeting will yield no result, but in the second half, it seemed that there is pressure of the farmers' agitation on the government. Talks were held in a conducive atmosphere," farm leader Harjinder Singh Tanda of the Azaad Kisan Sangharsh Committee was quoted as saying by ANI.
"We are hopeful. The laws are wrong. In the next meeting, we will put pressure on the government. They will have to say that they will take back the laws. In my opinion, it will be finalised in the meeting day after tomorrow," he added.
Additionally, Bharatiya Kisan Union spokesperson Rakesh Tikait said, "The issue is about the complete rollback of laws. Discussions will also be held on several other issues. Farmers want the laws to be taken back."
"We listed all drawbacks before the govt, they had to admit that there are drawbacks and they'll make amendments. We said we don't want amendments but the withdrawal of laws. We also demanded that MSP be implemented for certain and law should be made for it," Baldev Singh Sirsa, a farmer leader was quoted as saying by ANI.
The previous round of talks had taken place on 1 December, but had ended in a stalemate even after three hours of discussion as farmers' groups rejected the government's suggestion of forming a new committee to look into issues raised by farmers protesting against the new laws.
The government had rejected the demand for repealing the laws and asked the farmers' bodies to identify specific issues related to the newly enacted Acts and submit those by 2 December for consideration and discussion on Thursday.
Centre promises to strengthen APMCs, assures MSP will continue
Addressing reporters after the meeting, Tomar said that the government is discussing the farmers' concerns "with an open mind". He reiterated the govt's "assurance" that the provision of minimum support price (MSP) will continue.
Tomar said, "Government will contemplate about seeing that the APMCs are further strengthened and their usage is increased. New laws lay down provision for private mandis outside the purview of the APMC. So, we'll also contemplate about having an equal tax for private as well as mandis under the AMPC Act."
"It was raised during the meeting that if a trade takes place outside the purview of mandi, it'll take place on the basis of PAN Card, which can be easily acquired by anyone today. So, a trader should be registered. So, we will also ensure that the trader gets registered. In the new Act, it has been provided that farmers can take their grievances to SDM court. Farmers' unions feel that the SDM court is a lower court. The government will consider this demand.
"They (agitating farmers) also expressed their concerns over an ordinance on stubble burning and the Act on electricity. The government is open to consider and discuss these issues as well. People have reservations on MSP. I would like to reiterate that the MSP system will continue and we will assure farmers about it. The government is holding talks and the issue that will come up during discussion will definitely reach a solution," he added.
NDA's Haryana ally demands rollback of cases against farmers
Meanwhile, joining ranks of allies of the BJP who have expressed unhappiness over the NDA government's approach to the protests, the Jannayak Janta Party, the BJP's coalition partner in Haryana, on Thursday demanded the withdrawal of cases registered against state farmers who participated in Delhi Chalo march.
Digvijay Singh Chautala, JJP leader and brother of Haryana deputy chief minister Dushyant Singh Chautala, said the cases against farmers must be withdrawn to ensure that the situation does not worsen and no mistrust is created between farmers and the government.
"We will talk to the chief minister and home minister and tell them to withdraw cases against farmers so that situation does not worsen and any kind of mistrust is not created," Chautala told reporters.
"This is our party's stand on the issue. To protest peacefully is the fundamental right of the farmers," he added.
The JJP has also been facing the Opposition's fire for not walking out of the alliance on farmers' issue and "clinging to power".
Last week, Haryana Police had booked state Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) chief Gurnam Singh Charuni and several farmers on the attempt to murder and rioting charges in Ambala.
Hundreds of farmers were also booked on charges of rioting, participating in unlawful assembly, obstructing public servants from discharging their duty, damaging public property and violating various provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, in Ambala, Panipat, Rohtak, Kaithal, Sirsa and other districts of the state a week ago.
Amarinder Singh meets Amit Shah, asks to resolve issue
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh on Thursday made an appeal to Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the protesting farmers to find an early resolution to the impasse over the new farm laws, saying the agitation is affecting Punjab's economy and the nation's security.
Singh after meeting Shah at his residence said common ground must be found soon and the two sides should not take rigid positions on the matter.
"I came to meet the home minister to reiterate our position and to make a request to him and the farmers to resolve this soon because this (agitation) affects the economy of my Punjab as well as the security of the nation," the Congress leader told reporters after the meeting.
He said he urged the home minister to find an early solution to the issue.
Asked if he was trying to mediate between the agitating farmers and the Central Government, Singh said a discussion is going on between the two sides. "It is for them to resolve... we have reiterated Punjab's position," he said.
The Punjab chief minister and his Congress party have been supporting the farmers' stir and the state Assembly had also passed a set of bills aimed at negating the Centre's farm legislation.
Protests gain momentum in UP, Rajasthan
Protests against the Centre's new farm laws gained momentum in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh on Thursday as farmer organisations blocked roads and held demonstrations and rallies in solidarity with thousands gathered at Delhi's borders as part of their 'Delhi Chalo' march.
A group of farmers, under the banner of Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti, held a protest at Jaipur's Surajpole mandi and blocked the Jaipur-Delhi highway for nearly an hour to demand a repeal of the laws.
Another group staged a protest on the Rajasthan-Haryana border in Alwar district and said their numbers would rise if the Centre failed to fulfil their demands.
"The Centre should withdraw the farm laws immediately. Such a large number of farmers are raising their voices against the anti-farmer laws but the government is taking no step to fulfil the demands," CPM leader Ravindra Shukla said.
Congress Seva Dal members, led by state unit president Hem Singh Shekhawat, submitted a memorandum to the collector, urging the President of India to abolish the three farm laws.
Shekhawat termed the laws "anti-farmer" and said the Centre wanted to favour industrialists, and therefore, the laws were brought.
In Alwar, agitating farmers were joined by Rashtriya Kisan Mahapanchayat president Rampal Jat.
Hundreds of farmers from 27 tehsils of the four districts of Kota division held a rally against the farm laws and submitted a memorandum to the district collector.
The farmers, some of them on tractors-trolleys and two-wheelers, marched through the main roads of the city, raising slogans and holding banners and placards in their hands.
Meanwhile, Delhi Police on Thursday closed routes on two national highways connecting Ghaziabad to Delhi as farmers stayed put at the National Capital's borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
"The local police have closed the routes on NH-9 and NH-24 from Ghaziabad to Delhi. On NH-1, both sides of the route have been closed near Shani Mandir," the Delhi Traffic Police tweeted.
"One carriageway of NH 24 for UP to Delhi is closed for traffic at Gazipur border. Likewise, the carriageway from Noida to Delhi at Chilla border is closed for traffic," the traffic police added.
Commuters were advised to use the Apsara border on GT Road, Bhopura border on Wazirabad road and the DND flyover for Delhi from the Uttar Pradesh side. NH 44 remained closed on both sides. Alternate routes available were NH-8, Bhopra, Apsara and the peripheral expressway.
The police also kept the Haryana-Delhi border at Singhu and Tikri closed for traffic for the eighth day on the trot.
Thousands of farmers have been camping at the Singhu and Tikri borders of the national capital for the last eight days as part of their protest against the laws.
With inputs from agencies
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