Farmers' protest: Deadlock continues as talks fail again; unions reject changes, demand complete repeal of agri laws

The two groups will meet again on 9 December, however, farmers' leaders said that their call for a 'Bharat Bandh' on 8 Dec that has also been supported by central trade unions would be observed with full force

FP Staff December 05, 2020 22:07:38 IST
Farmers' protest: Deadlock continues as talks fail again; unions reject changes, demand complete repeal of agri laws

Farmers shout slogans during their protest against the new farm laws. PTI

The deadlock over the farmers' demand to repeal Centre's farm laws continued as farmers' union leaders and the Centre failed to reach an agreement on Saturday, reports said.

The farmers' representatives said that they will intensify their demonstrations against the laws and continue blocking key highways on the outskirts of Delhi.

The representatives also said that their call for a 'Bharat Bandh' on 8 December that has also been supported by trade unions and various other organisations — a day before the sixth round of talks — would be observed with full force.

According to PTI, farmers' leaders rejected the governments offer to amend some contentious provisions of the new farm laws, which deregulate crop pricing, stocking of essential items by buyers and sale of produce outside APMC-regulated mandis, and stuck to the demand for total repeal.

Saturday's was the fifth round of talks between the government and 40 farmer leaders since the law was enacted in September. The two sides will meet for further discussions on Wednesday, PTI reported.

Farmer leaders said the government has sought more time for internal consultations to present a final proposal in the next meeting to resolve the issue.

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, however, said the government wanted some firm suggestions from the 40 farmer leaders present in the meeting on their key concerns and hoped that a resolution would be reached with their cooperation.

Thousands of farmers are protesting at various borders of the National Capital against the three laws they claim are meant to end the mandi system and minimum support price procurement system for the benefits of corporates.

Farmers have been protesting the laws for nearly two months in Punjab and Haryana states. The situation escalated last week when tens of thousands marched to New Delhi, where they clashed with police.

Besides farmers, activists, too, have slammed the new laws claiming they are designed to benefit corporates and will hurt farmers' interests in the long run. The laws add to already existing resentment from farmers, who often complain of being ignored by the government in their push for better crop prices, additional loan waivers and irrigation systems to guarantee water during dry spells.

Opposition leaders have said in the past that the laws were passed hurriedly by the Parliament. In fact, three Congress-ruled states — Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Rajasthan — have already passed laws in a bid to prevent the application of the three laws.

However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government insists the reforms will benefit farmers. It says they will allow farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment. But farmers say they were never consulted.

Since the protests intensified, some of the BJP leaders have called the farmers misguided and anti-national, a label often given those who criticise Modi or his policies.

Govt deliberately prolonging talks, say farmers

Towards the end of the meeting, the farmer leaders went on a 'maun vrat' (vow of silence) for about one hour while keeping a finger on their lips and holding a paper in another hand with "Yes or No" written there.

Onkar Singh Agaul, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal) general secretary, said we were on a ''maun vrat'' as the government was not giving us a clear-cut reply on whether it will repeal the farm laws or not.

One union leader said the government told them that they will first send the proposal to farmers' representatives and they will come for the next meeting after studying those.

He also said the farmer leaders have not given any indication of backing down on their demands, but they could see a change in the government's attitude in favour of ending the logjam.

All India Kisan Sabha, later said in a statement, it condemns the "deliberate prolonging of the talks" and alleged that the government was working at the behest of corporates.

It said lakhs of farmers are already on streets in this biting cold and the government''s delaying tactics would result in much greater participation and solidarity from all sections of the society.

As the meeting resumed after a tea break in the evening, the farmer leaders threatened to walk out if the government was not willing to scrap the three laws enacted in September.

While the government managed to convince them to continue with the talks, sources said some kind of division emerged among the participating farmer leaders on some proposals made by the ministers.

PTI quoted sources as saying that the government has also offered to take back cases filed against farmers for stubble burning, as also the cases filed against some farmer activists.

Later in the evening, the ministers also held talks with smaller groups of three-four farmer leaders, out of the total representatives present there.

Dispute resolution, registration of traders discussed

Tomar, who led the talks from the government side along with Railway, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash, appealed to the unions to send the elderly, women and children back to their homes from the protest sites due to cold weather conditions.

Addressing media after the meeting, the agriculture minister said the government has assured the farmers that procurement at minimum support price will continue and mandis will be strengthened.

"We wanted some firm suggestions from farmer leaders on some key issues, but couldn't get those in today's meeting. We will meet again on 9 December. We have told them that the government will consider all their concerns and our efforts will be to find a solution," Tomar said.

"It would have been easier if they had given those suggestions today itself. We will wait for their suggestions," he added.

At the beginning of the meeting at Vigyan Bhawan, Tomar had said the government is committed to "peaceful talks with farmers' leaders and does not intend to hurt farmers' sentiments".

The agriculture minister welcomed feedback on the three farm laws, while agriculture secretary Sanjay Agarwal summarised the proceedings of the previous four rounds of talks with farmer unions during the meeting, sources said.

The two sides are believed to have discussed contentious issues like provision of dispute resolution and registration of traders in proposed private mandis under the new laws.

Later, Parkash, who is also MP from Punjab, addressed the leaders in Punjabi and said the government understands the sentiments of Punjab.

"We are ready to address all your concerns with an open mind," a source quoted Parkash as telling the union leaders.

Ahead of the meeting, Tomar and Goyal, along with senior Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Amit Shah, had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to deliberate over proposals likely to be made to the agitating groups.

On Thursday, talks between the Union ministers and representatives of agitating farmers had failed to yield any resolution, as the Union leaders stuck to their demand for the repeal of new farm laws despite the government offering to "discuss and consider with an open mind" some key points of concern raised by farmers in the three new laws.

Only repeal of laws will end stalemate, say farmers

Undeterred by the winter chill, thousands of farmers have stayed put at various border points of Delhi since 26 November as part of their 'Delhi Chalo' protests against the Centre's farm laws.

Before the start of the meeting, an All India Kisan Sabha functionary said only repealing of the new farm laws will end the stalemate.

"At this juncture, we have transport unions, retail businesses and other associated groups who have shown solidarity with us. Our movement is not just about farmers," AIKS finance secretary Krishna Prasad said.

Outside the meeting venue, employees of the Indian Tourist Transporters Association (ITTA), which has supplied vehicles for the transit movement of the protesting farmers, were seen holding a banner which read 'We support farmers' and shouting slogans backing the peasants' agitation.

"I belong to a farmer's family. I can relate to their fears. We had farmland at Mahipalpur and now you see T-3 terminal out there. We are supporting the protesting farmers in their cause," IITA president Satish Sehrawat told PTI.

He said the association is providing transportation facility to the farmers since their first meeting. Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal) state general secretary Onkar Singh Agaul said: "Our demand remains the same that the government should withdraw all three farm laws. We want MSP should be guaranteed through law".

He also sought scrapping of electricity amendment law and an ordinance on stubble burning.

With inputs from agencies

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