Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar has held six rounds of talks with farm unions over the last three weeks. In an interview to The Indian Express, he ruled out a repeal of the three farm laws, but said he was open to address their misgivings clause-by-clause, and willing to consider amendments based on their apprehensions. Excerpts:
Are you holding informal discussions with the leaders of farm unions, who are protesting against the three farm laws?
We have spoken to some of them. They want a solution. We have been asking the representatives of farm unions about their reservations on the provisions in the law. We are ready to discuss those which are not in the interest of farmers. But they don’t want to discuss (the laws) clause by clause. Members from all parties discussed the laws over four hours both in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. They expressed their views but not on the provisions of Acts. After 2-3 round of talks, when they did not talk about these provisions, then I identified a few issues such as concerns regarding APMCs, demand for civil court instead of dispute resolution by Sub-Divisional Magistrate, registration of traders, and registration of contract farming. I told them that we are ready to discuss these.
Then they raised the issue of stubble burning and the Electricity (Amendment) Bill. I said we are open for discussion on these issues also. So, in the meeting on December 3, it appeared that we have identified all the issues on which farmers wanted to discuss… But in the next round of talks they did not discuss these issues and remained stuck to their demand of repeal of the Acts… Our stand is very clear since the beginning—tell us your concerns, we will address…
During the debate on farm bills in the both houses of the Parliament, members from opposition parties had expressed their concerns regarding several provisions of the Acts including the sections related to dispute resolution mechanism. Why did the government not send these bills to a Select Committee?
Only complex and lengthy bills are sent to the Select Committee or the Standing Committee… These are small Acts and have been debated for years. In the Congress or the UPA regime, the then Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister were also keen to undertake these reforms. It was there in the 2019 Congress manifesto. If there is something in the manifesto, it means that there is an agreement… So, these reforms were not so complex to be sent to the select committee… people were waiting for these reforms for years.
Do you think that the protests are only limited to a few states and not in other parts of the country?
The protests are only in Punjab.
So tell us, why is it that only Punjab farmers are protesting against the farm laws?
I think the mandi system is more robust in Punjab and some people have greater faith in that system. That’s why the protests are taking place. Besides, there is an impact of party politics on the start of the protests.
Two days back you said people protesting against the farm laws, are the same as those who protested against the Ram temple, repeal of article 370 and the CAA. But there was no protest on CAA, Ram temple and article 370 in Punjab, then what is the basis of your claim?
Actually, I did not mean that. I said that there are some people, who in the guise of farmers protests, want to achieve their goal. These are the very same people who protested the above issues. For instance, why do you demand the repeal of the Acts? You can discuss the provisions of the Acts which are against the interests of the farmers. If the government addresses those issues, then the agitation should also end. Whatever information we got from the media, we saw that other elements have entered in the movement and are misusing farmers’ platforms. I was surprised to see that there is a demand from the farmers’ platform for the release of Umar Khalid and Sharjeel Imam. Why should that platform be used for such a demand? What good deed have the people done whose release has been demanded? When I saw this, I made that statement. So, I had not stated this about the farmers or farm unions, my statement was meant for those who want to misuse farmers’ platforms to achieve their goals.
You have said that the government is ready to give a written assurance on MSP. How will it be done? Through an executive order?
The MSP is being implemented through an administrative decision of the government. It was in force in the past, it is in the present, and it will continue in the future. We have made it clear that no one should have doubts about MSP.
The farmers in Punjab fear that the government will put a ceiling on MSP-based procurement in coming years. Have you assured the farmers that there will never be a cap on procurement?
There is no need for fear. We have stated that the procurement will continue. The Prime Minister has also said this. However, we are ready to give it in writing also. We don’t have any problem with this.
You said that we are ready for the discussions, but your ministry has not sent a letter to farm union leaders inviting them for talks. What is the way forward?
Talks are continuing. We have sent them a proposal to address their concerns. Now they have to tell us about the points on which they agree, and their views on different points they want to discuss. We are ready for talks, once we receive their views… I am ready to send them an invitation once they revert on the changes proposed by the government.
Has the government decided that it will not repeal the laws?
I will say only that instead of discussion on repeal (of laws), people need to discuss clause by clause.
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