Punjab rail blockade over farm laws to continue as Centre, farmers' unions fail to reach agreement

Punjab chief minsiter Amarinder Singh, however, welcomed the 'positive spirit' in which the farmer unions and the Centre held the discussions and termed it a 'constructive development'

Press Trust of India November 13, 2020 23:53:25 IST
Punjab rail blockade over farm laws to continue as Centre, farmers' unions fail to reach agreement

Union ministers, including Piyush Goyal, met with Punjab farmers unions on Friday. ANI

New Delhi: A meeting between farmers' unions and the Centre to resolve the ongoing rail traffic disruption and blockade in Punjab ended inconclusively on Friday, with both sides holding their ground.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh welcomed the "positive spirit" in which the farmer unions and the Centre held the discussions and termed it a "constructive development".

The meeting with representatives of various farmers unions at Vigyan Bhawan was attended by Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Prakash. Punjab government representatives were also present.

During the seven-hour-long crucial meeting, both sides heard each other's views and tried to bring a common ground for restoring rail services in Punjab, which is currently facing a blockade.

"The meeting remained inconclusive and the ministers, after hearing our side, said they would again meet shortly to resolve the issue," Bhartiya Kisan Manch president Jathedar Boota Singh Shadipur told PTI after the meeting.

He said the farmers' unions wanted goods trains services to resume as Punjab was suffering due to the blockade. Train services to the state remain suspended due to the farmers' agitation over the new farm laws.

However, the Centre was keen to start both passenger and goods trains to Punjab simultaneously and end the blockade. The farmers had concerns about starting passenger services and said they would discuss the matter, but were keen that the Railways started the freight trains.

Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal) president Balbir Singh Rajewal said preliminary discussion was held on Friday and hoped for an early solution. He added that train services may start soon.

The farmers' unions would meet again on 18 November in Chandigarh to chalk out further strategy on the issue.

State president of Krantikari Kisan Union Darshan Pal said, "We put forth our demands, including repeal of the new farm laws and the new pollution legislation, besides a guarantee to ensure that farm produce would be bought at MSP."

"No solution could be found in today's meeting. But, it was decided that talks should continue. We will positively decide on starting train services in Punjab," he told PTI.

The impasse on running trains in the state, however, continued with the railway minister sticking to his stand of not running selective trains in the region. The Railways has said if train operations are to resume in the state, the state government has to assure 100 percent security clearance for all kinds of trains.

Sources said both sides were firm on their respective stands on the new farm laws.

The ministers and the government officials tried to convince the farmer leaders why these laws were important and how beneficial they were for the farming sector, the sources pointed out.

However, the farmers stuck to their stand that these legislations must be repealed and replaced with another set of laws framed with wider consultation with all stakeholders. The farmers also demanded a guarantee on the MSP front.

According to government sources, a detailed presentation was made on the procurement levels, but no breaking ground could be reached as farmer unions remained adamant on their stand. The Centre said it was committed to the welfare of farmers and Agriculture was its top priority.

Tomar said the government was taking several measures for the welfare of farmers with a specific focus on 'Aatmanirbhar Bharat'. The new farm laws would not only provide freedom of choice to the farmers to sell their produce at remunerative price but also safeguard their interest, he said.

"We kept the government's view. We told them that there is a big gap between their demand and government's stand and it cannot be resolved immediately. We requested them that they should sit with us and hold more meetings," the Union agriculture minister said.

The farmers' representatives were told about several steps which the Narendra Modi government has taken for the benefit of farmers and to improve the state of agriculture in the country besides initiating agricultural reforms, he said.

During the interaction, the ministers informed the representatives of farmer unions that procurement of their produce at minimum support price and the Mandi system will continue as before. The new farm laws will encourage the mandis to provide better services to the farmers, they said.

According to an official statement, the talks were held in a cordial atmosphere and both sides agreed to continue to hold further discussions.

Amarinder, in a statement, said, "The fact that both sides came to the table and agreed to find solutions suggests that they had come to a mutual realisation on the need to find solutions to the prolonged crisis triggered by the farm laws."

He hoped the internal discussions proposed by the farmers unions on 18 November, ahead of another meeting with the Centre on 21 November, will help "identify concrete ways and means to resolve out various points raised at today's extensive discussions".

Punjab has suffered huge financial losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been badly hit by the current crisis triggered by the Centre's farm laws, said Singh while stressing on the need for urgent resolution of the matter in the interest of the state and all sections of its populace.

"It is also in the interest of the entire country to settle the differences that had so far prevented the two sides from resolving the crisis," he added.

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