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What Happened in the First Five Meetings Between Farmers and Centre Regarding Farm Bills

Leaders of 35 farmers unions met Tomar, Goyal, and Som Prakash for talks at the Vigyan Bhawan in a bid to bring a resolution to the months-long stir.
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After close to a month’s freeze in the farmer-government talks, the deadlock will be broken by a meeting tomorrow. As we wait to see its outcome, NIHARIKA RAVI reports on what transpired in the previous meetings.

The three contentious farm laws, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were passed in a controversial session of the Rajya Sabha on September 20, 2020.

Soon after, protests by farmers broke out in different states.

Farmers fear that powerful investors would bind them to unfavourable contracts drafted by big corporate law firms, with liability clauses that would be beyond the understanding of poor farmers.

The government, on the other hand, argues that the laws will bring in agricultural reforms, modernise farming and increase the income of farmers.

First Round of Talks: October 14, 2020

The farmers’ organisations, whose agitation against farm laws has disrupted rail traffic and severely impacted coal supply for thermal power plants in Punjab, had rejected the Union Agriculture Ministry’s invitation to participate in a “conference to address their concerns” on October 8.

Said Jamhuri Kisan Sabha’s General Secretary Kulwant Singh Sandhu: “In the first round of talks we had given a letter to the Secretary, stating our eight demands. These demands included repealing of three farm laws.” He said that this was never taken off the table.

The farmers made a string of demands in the first round of talks with the Centre held between 29 representatives of the farm unions of Punjab and Union Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agarwal on October 14 in Krishi Bhawan.

These included repealing the farm laws and the Electricity Amendment Act, 2020, legally ensuring government procurement on minimum support price, withdrawal of the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020, withdrawal of cases registered against activists and protesters, and implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report to fix MSP with C2+50 percent formulae.

In 2011, PM Modi who was the then-Gujarat Chief Minister and Chairman of Working Group on Consumer Affairs had submitted a report to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh holding the MSP as the benchmark price.

Said Jamhuri Kisan Sabha’s General Secretary Kulwant Singh Sandhu: “In the first round of talks we had given a letter to the Secretary, stating our eight demands. These demands included repealing of three farm laws.” He said that this was never taken off the table.

Even a memorandum signed by about a dozen farm union representatives and submitted to Agarwal on October 14, mentions this as among their demands.

Other sources say that farmers had gone to Delhi on October 14 to meet the Secretary, Agriculture, but boycotted the meeting as they got angry because no minister was present to talk to them.

MSP Issue Raised before 2nd Round of Talks

Ahead of the second round of talks, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told India Today that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) cannot be put into the new farm laws but assured that the MSP regime is here to stay. The statement came in reply to a question as to whether MSP can be included in the new farm laws.

Source: The Hindu

In 2011, PM Modi who was the then-Gujarat Chief Minister and Chairman of Working Group on Consumer Affairs had submitted a report to the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh holding the MSP as the benchmark price.

Second Round of Talks: November 13, 2020

Tomar and Piyush Goyal, on behalf of the government, held a marathon seven-hour meeting with farm leaders of Punjab, who are opposing the recently passed three farm-related legislations.

The Centre had offered to set up a five-member committee of officials, agrarian experts as well as farmers’ leaders to look into the three agricultural laws and resolve grievances, which the farmers’ unions rejected. They instead demanded a special session of Parliament to repeal the laws that, according to them, are made to favour the corporate bodies.

All India Kisan Sangarsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), the umbrella organisation of over 250 farmer groups across the country, in a statement said the meeting remained inconclusive because the government was not ready to heed the farmers’ demand for a guaranteed MSP regime for all farmers and all crops.

An official release said that during the interaction, the Ministers informed the representatives of Punjab farmers that procurement of farm produce on MSP and the Mandi system will continue as before. The new Farm Act will encourage mandis to provide better services to farmers, it said.

The Ministers also assured the farm leaders that the government was committed to protecting the interest of farmers and is always open for discussions for the welfare of farmers. Apart from senior officials from the Agriculture Ministry, their counterparts from the Punjab government were also present at the meeting.

The farm leaders said the meeting was inconclusive and that the dialogue would continue after the leaders holding their own meeting in the State on November 18.

Third Round of Talks: December 1, 2020

Leaders of 35 farmers unions met Tomar, Goyal, and Som Prakash for talks at the Vigyan Bhawan in a bid to bring a resolution to the months-long stir.

The Centre had offered to set up a five-member committee of officials, agrarian experts as well as farmers’ leaders to look into the three agricultural laws and resolve grievances, which the farmers’ unions rejected.

They instead demanded a special session of Parliament to repeal the laws that, according to them, are made to favour the corporate bodies. Farmer’s representatives also mentioned that the protests will continue till the issue is resolved.

Another round of talks was held later in the evening at the Agriculture Ministry with representatives of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) and was attended by representatives from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Uttarakhand. However, union leaders said they feared the government might be trying to break their unity and the momentum of their protest by holding separate talks.

Fourth Round of Talks: December 3, 2020

Talks between three union ministers and a representative group of thousands of agitating farmers failed to yield any resolution as the union leaders stuck to their demand for the repeal of new farm laws and even refused the lunch, tea and water offered to them during almost eight-hour-long hectic parleys.

On its part, the government assured the group of nearly 40 leaders that all their valid concerns would be addressed.

After more than four hours of discussions with three union ministers and senior officials, farmer leaders said the government sought more time for internal consultations to present a final proposal in the next meeting to resolve the issue. 

The farmers flagged several loopholes and deficiencies in the laws, which they said were passed hastily in September.

No final outcome was reached due to a paucity of time and while government sources said that the meeting would resume on Saturday, union leaders emerged from the venue shouting slogans, saying the talks remained deadlocked.

Some of them threatened to boycott any further meetings if no solution was found at the meeting.

Fifth Round of Talks: December 5, 2020

The fifth round of meetings failed to reach a conclusion once again.

After more than four hours of discussions with three union ministers and senior officials, farmer leaders said the government sought more time for internal consultations to present a final proposal in the next meeting to resolve the issue.

Source: ANI

Tomar, however, said the government wanted some firm suggestions from the 40 leaders present at the meeting on their key concerns and hoped that a resolution would be reached with their cooperation.

Tomar, who led the talks from the government side along with Goyal and Prakash, appealed to the unions to send the elderly, women and children back to their homes from protest sites, given the cold weather conditions.

He assured 40 union leaders that the government is open to considering ways to strengthen APMC mandis, create a level-playing field with proposed private markets, and provide a provision for approaching higher courts for dispute resolution while asserting that procurement at minimum support price (MSP) will continue.

Memorandum Submitted: December 7, 2020

A group of 20 progressive farmers from Haryana submitted to the government a memorandum demanding that the government consider amendments as suggested by the protesting farmer’s unions but not repeal them.

Tomar had told these progressive farmers backing these legislations that these measures will benefit the peasantry and the agriculture sector and that the government will handle such agitations.

Amit Shah’s Meeting with Farmers Pre-Sixth Round of Talks: December 8, 2020

A day before the government’s crucial sixth round of talks with representatives of protesting farmers, Home Minister Amit Shah on December 8, 2020, met a select group of union leaders in a bid to break the deadlock.

Shah had offered amendments to some of the provisions of the three farm laws in writing. But many farm leaders had said they will not attend the meeting the next day and that they will take a call on their next course of action after studying the government’s written proposal on that day.

Sources said 13 leaders of the farmers were called for the meeting. They included eight from Punjab and five from various nationwide organisations. Sources said the participating leaders included Hannan Mollah of the All India Kisan Sabha and Rakesh Tikait of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).

On that day, a ‘Bharat Bandh’ was observed by farmers to press their demands. It affected life in some states.

The meeting, however, appeared to have created discord among the organisations spearheading the protests on Delhi’s borders with the head of the BKU (Ugrahan), which is one of the largest outfits in the bloc, questioning the rationale of the talks a day before the scheduled official consultations.

Shah had offered amendments to some of the provisions of the three farm laws in writing. But many farm leaders had said they will not attend the meeting the next day and that they will take a call on their next course of action after studying the government’s written proposal on that day.

Sixth Round of Talks (December 9, 2020) Cancelled

Cancelled because of the offer made by Shah the previous day. Farmers refused to attend stating that they needed time to assess Shah’s offer. They later rejected the proposal and demanded a complete repeal of the laws.

The farmers later proposed to meet the government on December 29, but the Agriculture Ministry wrote to them requesting a meeting on December 30.

The article was originally published in The Leaflet.

(Niharika Ravi is a law student at NMIMS, Navi Mumbai, and an intern with The Leaflet.)

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