Talks end in stalemate as farmers remain adamant on repeal of agri laws, Centre says can't offer more than 18 months of stay
Unlike the last 10 rounds of talks, the 11th round could not even reach a decision on the next date for the meeting as the Central Government also hardened its position saying it is ready to meet again once the unions agree to discuss the suspension proposal
Both the Centre and the farmers' groups failed to reach a solution during the eleventh round of talks on Friday with the protesters reiterating their demand for a complete repeal of the contentious farm laws and the govt reasserting it has nothing more to give than 'suspend' their implementation for a period of 18 months.
Unlike the last 10 rounds of talks, the eleventh round could not even reach a decision on the next date for the meeting. This is a big climbdown from when the Centre offered to suspend the laws and form a joint committee to find solutions.
The Central Government, however, hinted at a possible next meeting provided the farmer unions are ready to discuss the government's proposal to temporarily suspend the laws. The Centre has asked them to reconsider its proposal for putting the Acts on hold for 12-18 months, but the farmers have rejected the proposal.
On their part, the farmer groups said they will intensify their agitation and alleged that the government's approach was "not right" during Friday's meeting.
They also said their tractor rally will go ahead as planned on Republic Day (26 January) and that they have told the police that it is the government's responsibility to maintain peace.
Reports also quoted Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh as saying that the state government will provide employment to the kin of the farmers who have passed away while participating in the protest.
"I have received a report that 76 farmers have passed away during the protest against three farm laws. Today, I announce that we'll provide govt jobs to one family member of those from Punjab who die in agitation at Delhi borders," he said.
Centre, farmers remain adamant; 11th meeting ends inconclusively
While the meeting on Friday lasted for almost five hours, the two sides sat face to face for less than 30 minutes, PTI reported.
In the very beginning, the farmer leaders informed the government that they have decided to reject the proposal made by the government in the last round of talks on Wednesday.
The three central ministers, including Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, urged the representatives of the farmers' unions to reconsider their stand, after which the two sides went for a lunch break.
The break, during which the farmer leaders had their langar (community kitchen) food, lasted for more than three hours and also saw the 41 farmer leaders holding consultations among themselves, at times in smaller groups, while the three central ministers waited in a separate room at the Vigyan Bhawan.
After the meeting with the Union ministers, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) leader Joginder Singh Ugrahan said the discussions have broken down as the unions rejected the government's proposal.
Another farmer leader, Rakesh Tikait, said that the ministers suggested that the suspension period can be increased to up to 2 years, but the unions remained firm on their demand for a complete repeal and a legal guarantee for Minimum Support Price (MSP) mechanism for procurement of crops.
Coming out of the meeting venue, farmer leader Shiv Kumar Kakka said there was no headway in the discussions and that the government had asked the unions to deliberate on its proposal again.
Kakka was the first to leave the meeting, but said it was for "some personal reasons".
In the last round of meetings held on Wednesday, the government had offered to put on hold the three laws and set up a joint committee to find solutions. However, after internal consultations on Thursday, the farmer unions decided to reject the offer and stick to their two major demands — the repeal of the three laws and a legal guarantee of the MSP.
"We told the government that we will not agree to anything other than the repeal of the laws. But the minister asked us to discuss separately again and rethink the matter and convey the decision," farmer leader Darshan Pal told PTI.
Tikait added, "We conveyed our position clearly to the government that we want a repeal of the laws and not a suspension. The ministers asked us to reconsider our decision."
Some leaders expressed apprehensions that the movement will lose its momentum once the farmers go away from Delhi borders.
Harpal Singh, president of Bhartiya Kisan Union Asli Arajnaitik, said, "Even if we accept the government's offer, our fellow brothers sitting at Delhi borders will not accept anything other than a repeal of the laws. They will not spare us. What achievement will we show to them?"
He also questioned the government's credibility, alleging it was difficult to believe that they will keep their word on putting the laws on hold for 18 months.
"We will die here but we will not return without getting the laws repealed," Singh said.
In a full general body meeting on Thursday, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of the protesting unions, had rejected the government's proposal.
"A full repeal of three central farm Acts and enacting a legislation for remunerative MSP for all farmers were reiterated as the pending demands of the movement," the Morcha had said in a statement.
'No problem' with farm laws, says Tomar
Union agriculture minister Tomar said some "forces" definitely want protests to continue for their "own personal and political motives" and no resolution is possible when the sanctity of agitation is lost.
The minister said the farmer unions have been asked to revert till Saturday if they agree to the government's proposal for putting the laws on hold and forming a joint committee to reach a solution, after which the talks can continue.
"We also told farmers to give their own proposal, other than the repeal of Acts, if they have got anything better than our offer," Tomar told reporters after the 11th round of talks ended.
Asked whether he expects the farmers to agree to the government offer, he said, "I don't want to speculate, but we are hopeful that farmer unions will consider positively our proposal."
On whether he saw any division among the union leaders on the government proposal, Tomar did not give a direct reply but said, "We thanked all farmer leaders, including those who support our proposal and those who are against it."
"We should remain hopeful. Let's wait till tomorrow to hear farmers' unions' final decision," he said.
Taking a hardline position, the minister said some external force was definitely trying to ensure that the agitation continues and those were obviously against the interests of farmers.
"The government gave many proposals to end the protest, but no resolution is possible when the sanctity of an agitation is lost," he said.
Tomar said the three farm reform bills were passed in Parliament for farmers' benefit and will increase their income. The ongoing agitation is mainly by those from Punjab and some from a few other states, he claimed.
Tomar said the talks between the government and farmers are continuing since 14 October and there have been 11 rounds so far, including one with officials and others with the ministers.
PTI reported that Tomar recommended to the farmers to discuss the proposal to suspend the laws internally.
The minister also thanked unions for their cooperation and said while there were "no problems with the laws", the government offered to suspend them as respect for the protesting farmers.
Along with Union Agriculture Minister Tomar, Railways, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash are also participating in the talks with representatives of 41 farmer unions at the Vigyan Bhawan.
Punjab, Haryana farmers to set out for tractor parade in Delhi tomorrow
After holding rehearsals and preparations for the past few days, several batches of farmers from Punjab and Haryana will set out on Saturday to participate in the proposed tractor parade on 26 January in Delhi.
"We all are geared up for participation in a tractor parade. Our first batch will move from Khanauri (in Sangrur) and another from Dabwali (in Sirsa district)," Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan said on Friday.
"Considering the kind of enthusiasm among people, over 30,000 tractors owing allegiance to our union will be part of the parade," he added.
Farmer unions have held several tractor rallies across the state to mobilise people and prepare for the proposed parade in the past few days.
Farmers have also announced to display tableaus during the parade to showcase the plight of the farming community, they said.
As farmer bodies have given a call for a peaceful tractor parade, farmer unions have issued directions to their village and block-level leadership to ensure discipline during the march.
"Our union's block-level and village-level leaders will lead the tractor march and rest will follow them," said Kokrikalan, adding that volunteers will be deployed to keep a check on the situation.
In Haryana, farmers from Karnal, Ambala, Rohtak, Bhiwani and Kurukshetra will leave for Delhi, said farmer leaders.
Thousands of farmers from across the country are protesting at various border points of Delhi for over a month now against the three laws.
Farmer groups have alleged these laws will end the mandi and MSP procurement systems and leave the farmers at the mercy of big corporates, even as the government has rejected these apprehensions as misplaced.
On 11 January, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the three laws till further orders and appointed a four-member panel to resolve the impasse.
Bhartiya Kisan Union president Bhupinder Singh Mann had recused himself from the committee appointed by the apex court.
Shetkari Sanghatana (Maharashtra) president Anil Ghanwat and agriculture economists Pramod Kumar Joshi and Ashok Gulati, the other three members on the panel, started the consultation process with stakeholders on Thursday.
With inputs from PTI
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Addressing a 'kisan panchayat' in Uttar Pradesh's Bijnore, the Congress leader also claimed that farmers were "ridiculed" in the Parliament and "dubbed as traitors" by ministers
Farmers' protest: SC-appointed committee holds consultations on farm laws with 12 unions from eight states
Farmer unions from Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal participated in the meeting
The panel said it also held meetings with officials of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, the Union Consumer Affairs Department, and the Small Farmers' Agri-Business Consortium