ON A day when the Bharat Bandh called by farmer unions saw a mixed response across the country, Home Minister Amit Shah stepped in to resolve the crisis on Tuesday as he met a delegation of 13 farmer leaders, but could not break the deadlock. While the government offered to send a proposal regarding the amendments that it was willing to make in the new farm laws, the farmers stuck to their demand for repeal of the laws.
While the sixth round of talks with the Centre was scheduled to be held on Wednesday, farmer leaders said they would “not participate” and would first meet to discuss the government’s proposal. The Union Cabinet is set to meet on Wednesday morning.
Farmer leaders said the government’s offer to send a proposal on the amendments indicated that it was not ready to repeal the laws.
Speaking to reporters after the nearly three-hour-long meeting, Hannan Mollah, CPI(M) leader and general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha, said: “In today’s meeting, the Home Minister made it clear that the government will not repeal the laws. He said tomorrow, the government will give in writing the amendments that it can make… There is no scope for amendments, we want repeal of the laws. We don’t accept amendments, we want repeal.”
“We will let you know about the next round of talks after our meeting at Singhu border tomorrow,” he said. “There is no chance of a meeting again. There was no outcome in today’s meeting… we will not participate in tomorrow’s meeting. They will give a letter tomorrow. But whatever they have decided to give us in writing tomorrow, we will not accept. There is no question of meeting again,” Mollah said.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Mollah said: “The meeting was fruitless… We unanimously told him that we don’t want amendments, we want repeal of these laws. They said repeal is not possible, there are difficulties. We said we have no other demand.”
“The leaders of all the farmer organisations will have a meeting at the Singhu border at noon tomorrow. If the letter is only about the amendments, then there is no question of further talks…rishta khatam ho jayega,” he said.
“No meeting will be held between the government and farmer leaders tomorrow,” Haryana Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) president Gurnam Singh Chaduni said. “The government will send its proposal tomorrow. We will discuss it and then decide whether another meeting is needed. There was no progress in the talks today. The government offered amendments, but we want repeal,” said Chaduni.
Earlier in the day, confirming that Shah had called them for talks, farmer leaders said they would demand a “yes or no” answer from him. “There is no midway. We will demand just ‘yes’ or ‘no’ from Home Minister Amit Shah at today’s meeting,” farmer leader Ruldu Singh Mansa said at a press conference at the Singhu border, according to a PTI report.
This was Shah’s first meeting with the farmers. The meeting, which began a little past 8 pm, was held at the National Agricultural Science Complex, Pusa.
On November 28, Shah had set a pre-condition, saying that the Centre was ready to hold talks as soon as the farmers shifted their protest from the Delhi borders to Burari ground. The farmers, mostly from the neighbouring states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, have been protesting at Delhi’s borders for the last 12 days.
The three ministers who have been leading the government’s consultations with the farmers — Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Som Parkash — also attended the meeting.
Besides Mollah and Chaduni, the other farmer leaders who were present were Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh leader Shiv Kumar Kakka and Bharatiya Kisan Union spokesperson Rakesh Tikait.
“Some farmer unions asked why the government did not consult them before bringing these laws. The ministers admitted their mistake and said there was no point in looking back,” Kakka said.
The meeting, however, appeared to have created a discord among the organisations spearheading the farmer protests. Joginder Singh Ugrahan, who heads the BKU (Ugrahan), said he was not invited, and the 13 farmer leaders should not have attended the meeting. “It will raise many doubts in the minds of people,” he said.
Addressing a press conference at Singhu before their meeting with Shah, farmer leaders said they would press for repeal of the laws. “We have a meeting with the Home Minister and we will have to see what is the result. Our demands are the same since the first day. We have had many meetings with the government so far, but nothing substantial has come out of them,” said Chaduni.
Farmer leaders said they would consider a proposal to move their protest to Jantar Mantar, depending on the outcome of their meeting with Shah.
The last five rounds of talks have remained inconclusive, as the farmer leaders have taken a maximalist position and demanded a complete repeal of the new laws, rejecting the government’s offer to reconsider some of the key provisions to incorporate their demands.
At the last meeting on Saturday, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar was learnt to have offered to amend some provisions of the farm laws and even agreed to give a written assurance on MSP and procurement, but representatives of the farmer unions spurned the offer.
The farmers are also demanding legal guarantee for the minimum support price-based procurement and withdrawal of the Electricity (Amendment) Bill.
While some of their concerns can be addressed through executive orders, others may require amendment to the laws. For instance, to ensure samyata (level-playing field) between the APMC mandis and private markets, amendment of Section 6 of the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 may be required.
Similarly, a tweak in the provisions of the Act will be required to allow disputes to be taken to civil courts. Under the Act, Section 15 states that disputes arising out of transactions in the alternative markets cannot be entertained in regular civil courts. Instead, these have to be compulsorily referred to conciliation boards and appellate authorities appointed by the local Sub-Divisional Magistrates and District Collectors.
– With Manoj CG & Amil Bhatnagar in New Delhi; Raakhi Jagga in Ludhiana; Sukhbir Siwach in Chandigarh
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