THE CENTRAL government Thursday ceded some ground and said it would reconsider certain provisions of the new farm laws, but talks remained inconclusive with representatives of farmer unions sticking to their demand that all three laws be repealed. Both sides, however, agreed to meet again on December 5.
After a seven-hour marathon meeting with 40 representatives of farm organisations, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters, “The discussions took place in a cordial atmosphere. Farm unions leaders put forth their points of objections. The government also presented its views in detail.” Tomar was accompanied by Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Som Prakash.
“Farmers and unions were concerned that the existing (APMC) mandis in Punjab will be weakened due to the new law. Mandis (market yards) will not weaken, the government is ready to discuss this. The new Act provides for private mandis. They (farm leaders) were of the opinion that since there will no tax in private mandis, it can cause harm to existing mandis…The government will consider it with the view that there is a samyata (level-playing field) for both mandis (APMC and private) so that the interests of one are not affected by the other,” said Tomar. (Follow Live Updates here)
On farmers’ objections that trade in private mandis will be allowed merely on the basis of PAN cards under the new law, Tomar said, “We wanted to make the law so simple that there is no problem to the farmer and the buyer. Therefore, we provisioned for the requirement of PAN card only. The farmers feel that PAN cards can be acquired easily by anyone these days. So, there should be some protection… We feel they have a strong argument. Therefore, the government will consider their demand that traders should also be registered.”
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The Agriculture Minister also hinted the government was ready to reconsider the provisions regarding the dispute resolution mechanism in the new farm laws. “In the new farm laws, it has been provided that farmers can take their grievances to SDM (sub-divisional Magistrate) court. Farmers’ unions feel that SDM is a lower officer and they may not get justice from him, and they should be allowed to go to court. We are open to consider this also,” he said.
During the meeting, farmer leaders also expressed concern over the new Ordinance that penalises stubble burning that impacts air quality in the National Capital Region and adjoining areas, and the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020. Besides, they also flagged the need for registration under contract farming. Tomar said the government was open to consider and discuss these issues as well.
When asked if the government would amend the three laws, Tomar said, “Main bhavishyavakta nahi hoon (I am not a prophet).”
During the meeting, Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agarwal made a detailed presentation on the new farm laws and the measures taken by the Ministry of Agriculture for the welfare of farmers and the “measures taken to benefit agriculture during the lockdown period by keeping the supply chains active.”
Farm union leaders, however, did not budge from their stance and demanded that the three laws be repealed. Azad Kisan Samiti (Doaba) leader Harpal Singh Sangha said, “We said we don’t want amendments but withdrawal of laws.”
Another farmer leader, Baldev Singh Sirsa, said, “We listed all drawbacks before the government, they had to admit that there are drawbacks and they will make amendments.” Darshan Pal, President, Krantikari Kisan Union said, “The government is ready to amend all three Acts… We are not agreed on the amendments. We want that the government should repeal these Acts.”
In a statement, the Agriculture Ministry said the representatives of farmers raised the question of the constitutional validity of the three laws. “The Government side explained the constitutional provisions under which the Central Government legislated these laws,” it said.
Earlier in the day, before arriving for the meeting, Tomar and Goyal met Union Home Minister Amit Shah. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh also met Shah.
With no indication of an emerging common ground, the farm leaders refused the lunch offered by the government, choosing instead a simple meal of dal, subzi and roti brought to them from the Singhu Border where fellow farmers are camping. “We will not accept food or tea offered by the government. We have brought our own food,” a representative said.
Apart from Punjab and Haryana, farm leaders from other states including Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka also attended Thursday’s meeting. In all, representatives of 40 organisations — five more than at the last meeting — attended Thursday’s meeting.
Among those present at Vigyan Bhavan was Rakesh Tikait of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, who had laid siege to the Ghazipur border, and was not present in the Tuesday meeting. He had separately met Tomar after the Tuesday meeting to discuss the farmers’ demands.
In the Tuesday meeting, farm leaders had rejected a government proposal to form an expert panel to look into their demands. Earlier, on November 13, both sides had taken maximalist positions. Though talks remained inconclusive then, they agreed to continue discussions. The previous month, farm union representatives had walked out of a meeting with the Agriculture Secretary.