Farmers sit in protest against the new farm bill at Singhu border, New Delhi, on Tuesday January 19, 2021 Express photo by Abhinav Saha.
During their previous meeting on Thursday, farmer unions rejected the Centre's proposal to keep the laws in abeyance for 18 months, and reiterated their demand for repeal of the laws. However, sources told The Indian Express, nearly half the farm leaders were in favour of accepting the offer. Two days ago, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had said he believed the talks were moving in a "meaningful direction", and "we expect to move towards a solution on January 22."
Farmers are gearing up for their tractor parade on Republic Day, when lakhs are expected to rally on a 16-17 km stretch of Delhi's Outer Ring Road. During a meeting with the Delhi Police on Thursday, farmers were requested to reconsider their proposed route, and hold it at the protest sites at Singhu or Tikri or on the Eastern and Western Peripheral Expressways. Farmers are planning to set up tableaus of all states on tractor-trolleys during the parade.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court-appointed expert committee spoke to farmer organisations for the first time via video-conference on Thursday. It said it interacted with farmers from eight states, and received "suggestions to improve implementation of the Acts". The farmer unions, it said, "gave their frank opinion including suggestions to improve the implementation of Acts".
Farmers have been protesting in the national capital for over 50 days now. They are demanding the repeal of three farm laws which were enacted last September: The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.
Earlier this week, the Centre had suggested keeping the laws in abeyance for 18 months, and offered to form a joint committee of government and farmer representatives to address grievances.
Emerging from the talks, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said: "As you are aware, the Supreme Court has stayed the agriculture reform laws for a short duration. Their implementation will not happen for some time. In the past and even today, we told them that more time is needed to consider the laws in detail, discuss various aspects related to the agitation. And the required time may be six months, one year or one-and-half years.
"The government is ready to put on hold the implementation of the laws for one, one-and-half years. During this period, the government and farmer representatives shall find a solution. Whatever the solution, it should be taken forward," he added.
A day later, farmers unions rejected the proposal. However, sources told The Indian Express that of the 32 unions from Punjab, more than a dozen were in favour of accepting the offer, but the majority vote carried the resolution to reject the offer.
A statement on behalf of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of organisations spearheading the protest, released by Darshan Pal of Krantikari Kisan Union, stated: “In a full general body meeting of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha today, the proposal put forth by the Government yesterday was rejected. 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.”