THE CENTRAL government found itself hemmed in on Saturday with farmer unions once again taking a maximalist position demanding a repeal of all three farm laws.
To resolve the stand-off, an option to convene a special Parliament session is being considered, a senior government source told The Indian Express. “It is not ruled out, but no decision has been taken,” the source said to a question if a special session was being considered.
On Thursday, Leader of Opposition for Congress in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury wrote to Speaker Om Birla requesting a short winter session of Parliament to address “very important issues” including the “ongoing farmers agitation”. But sources in the Speaker’s office said the government had not yet discussed such a possibility.
On Saturday, talks between the government and representatives of farmer unions remained inconclusive. Both sides, however, agreed to meet again on December 9.
Briefing reporters after a marathon five-hour session, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters, “The discussion took place in a very cordial atmosphere. We said there is no threat to Minimum Support Price and any doubt about it is completely unfounded.”
Representatives of 40 farmer organisations participated in the meeting that commenced at 2.30 pm and continued till around 7 pm. Tomar was accompanied by Minister for Consumer Affairs and Food and Public Distribution Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Som Prakash.
In fact, despite spelling its intention on Thursday to address key demands of farmers such as levelling the playing field between APMC mandis and private markets, mandatory registration of traders, and recourse to civil courts when disputes arise, the government was taken aback by the hardening of stance by farm unions on Saturday. At one point, they even threatened to walk out.
Sources said Tomar 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 farmers unions spurned the offer.
Just before the tea break, the unions took out a ‘Yes or No’ placard seeking the government’s response to their demand that the three laws be repealed “The ministers were not taking a decision. So we took a ‘Yes or No’ placard and showed it to them,” said Shiv Kumar Kakka, leader of Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh.
When asked about this, Tomar said, “During discussions, many issues come to the fore… Whatever the outcome, it will be in the interest of farmers.”
The Agriculture Minister said the government was ready to take steps to strengthen the APMCs. “The APMC Act is a state Act. Neither we have intention to affect the state’s mandis nor these are being affected by the new farm laws. The government is ready to clear any doubts regarding the APMCs,” he said.
“We wanted precise suggestions from farm union representatives on various subjects… This would have made it easier for us to find a way. We will wait for that now when we meet again on December 9,” Tomar said.
“Ours is only one demand — repeal the three farm laws and make a law for the guarantee of MSP,” said Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh leader Kakka.
To a demand that MSP be hardwired into the law, the Union ministers explained the difficulty in doing this. “The Union Ministers said there are different APMC mandis across different states. The crops and the mandi systems also vary from state to state. We have to discuss this with the officials and other ministries. We will do the homework on that,” said a source.
Ahead of the talks on Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi discussed “various possibilities to end the stalemate” with some senior Cabinet colleagues including Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Tomar and Goyal. The meeting began at around 10 am, and went on till about 1 pm.