Moving to resolve the standoff with farmers protesting at the gates of Delhi against newly enacted farm laws, the Centre opened talks Tuesday with farmer representatives who, while not warming up to its suggestion of forming a committee to look into their demands, agreed to continue the dialogue.
Following the meeting that lasted three-and-half hours in Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, who led the talks with the farmers, told reporters: “The meeting was good, and we have decided to hold the next round of talks on December 3. We wanted a small group to be constituted, but the farmer leaders wanted the talks to be held with everyone. We do not have a problem with it.”
Tomar, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State (Commerce and Industry) Som Prakash spoke to representatives of 35 farmer unions who have been camping for the last six days at Delhi’s borders.
Later, Tomar also met western UP farmer leaders, including BKU leader Rakesh Tikait, at Krishi Bhavan. These farmer leaders were not present at the Vigyan Bhawan meeting.
“Tikait from the BKU called me. They also work for farmers… They came here and discussed issues regarding the Acts and other needs of the agriculture sector. We asked them to give us their issues in writing. We will also consider these,” Tomar said.
Following the meeting at Vigyan Bhavan, farmer leaders expressed the hope that their demands would be considered and the issues resolved soon. The Ministry of Agriculture, in a statement, said, “Various issues related to Farm Reform Acts were discussed at length and talks were held in a cordial atmosphere.”
“During the deliberations, the Union Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Minister proposed to constitute an expert committee to put forth the issues of farmers so as to resolve them with mutual consent but the representative of the Farmers Union suggested that all the representatives will attend further round of discussions with the Government to resolve the matter amicably,” the Ministry said.
It is learnt that the ministers conveyed to union representatives that it would be difficult to hold talks with 35 people, so they should provide names of 5-10 people with whom discussions could be held. But this was not acceptable to the representatives.
“During the interaction, it has been suggested by the Government to the representatives of Farmers Union to identify the specific issues related to Farm Reform Acts and share with the Government on 02.12.2020 for consideration. These issues will be discussed during the fourth round of meeting to be held on 03.12.2020,” the Ministry said – two rounds of talks were held before the farmers from Punjab and Haryana showed up on the borders of Delhi, and the talks Tuesday was the third round.
“It was assured that the Government of India is always committed to protect the interest of farmers and is always open for discussions for farmers’ welfare,” the statement said.
Emerging from the meeting, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Punjab) general secretary Jagmohan Singh said, “The meeting was alright… We told them there are many provisions in these new Bills which are against farmers… they proposed that a committee be set up… the attitude of governments always is to set up committees and commissions, and the deliberations are unending… we outrightly rejected the proposal.”
“Then they (government) said give us your objections in writing. We said we have already given a detailed memorandum. But they said give us your specific objections to these three laws, the proposed electricity Bill and the ordinance on pollution… why they are wrong… give us a rejoinder. They asked us to submit it tomorrow, and we will meet again the day after. We said there’s no need for a committee,” he said.
“They said it is possible to find a solution the day after tomorrow, or else we will have to sit again. We said we are ready for discussions. Even Parliament runs for two months… agriculture is the backbone of the country… we can sit and discuss… but the agitation will continue… in fact, it will be strengthened… till our demands are met,” he said.
Jamhoori Kisan Sabha general secretary (Punjab) Kulwant Singh Sandhu said, “First, they wanted to talk only to farmer unions of Punjab but we told them that this is an all-India protest and farmer representatives from across the country will participate in the talks. They proposed formation of a committee, we did not agree. We will continue our protest.”
Major Singh Punnawal, Punjab general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha, said, “Government asked us to create a small committee, with representatives of the government as well. We said creating a committee means putting the issue into cold storage. The discussions will happen with everyone, and we will all come, but only a few of us will speak.”
With the Minimum Support Price (MSP) being the main concern of the farmers, the government, sources said, could consider making it binding in law, not through an amendment but via an executive order while framing rules for the laws.
“It should not be an issue as both the government and the party are committed to MSP,” a BJP leader said. “Anyway, talks means give-and-take from both sides. We are sure the farmers are also aware of that,” the leader said.
Sources said both the government and the ruling BJP are keen to find a solution, but are in no mood to withdraw the farm laws.
The government’s stand on the laws, which it says benefit farmers, was made clear by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Mann Ki Baat address last Sunday.
Reassuring farmers on the benefits of the farm laws, the Prime Minister said that with the latest reforms in the agriculture sector, farmers have got new opportunities. On Monday, at a programme in Varanasi, he said the government had no intention to deceive farmers and the laws provide them new options and legal protection.
BJP leaders have been attacking the Opposition parties for “misleading” farmers on the new laws. But the BJP does not want the issue to linger because it could dent its image as a party that protects the interests of farmers, among whom it enjoys considerable support. The party also does not want the protests to spread to other states.
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