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Farmers’ Protest: Govt Accepts 2 of 4 Demands, Deadlock Continues on Repeal of 3 Agri Laws

Tarique Anwar |
The issues related to repealing of the contentious laws and legal guarantee on MSP will be discussed in the next round of talks to be held on January 4.
Talks with the Govt

New Delhi: The sixth round of talks on December 30 between the government and representatives of 40 farmer unions over the three newly-enacted agricultural laws ended with the Centre agreeing to accept two of the four demands. However, no consensus was reached on two major demands — finalising the modalities for repealing the three controversial laws and giving a legal guarantee on minimum support price (MSP). The next round of talks will be held on January 4.

Though the next round of talks is slated to discuss the two key demands, yet the negotiating panel representing the government hardened its stance and told the peasant leaders that it wouldn’t roll back the laws at any cost.

During Wednesday’s meeting, which went on for over five hours in Vigyan Bhawan, farmer leaders too stuck firmly to their stand that nothing less than withdrawal of the three laws was acceptable to them.

The agreement reached between the two sides was on issues relating to the proposed electricity law and stubble burning.

Talking about the two issues on which an agreement was reached between the government and farmer leaders, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said: “The first issue was an ordinance related to environment. Unions were apprehensive about penal provision against farmers for parali (stubble) burning. Both sides agreed to exclusion of farmers from the ordinance. The next issue was reform introduced in the Electricity Act. They argued they will suffer a loss and wanted the electricity subsidy given to farmers by states for irrigation to continue. A consensus was reached on this issue also.”

The talks, Tomar said, were held in “cordial” atmosphere. “The union leaders kept insisting on repeal of the three laws and legal guarantee for MSP. The negotiations will continue on these two issues, and we will once again sit together for discussion on January 4,” he told the media soon after the meeting was over.

A farmer union leader Kulwant Singh Sandhu said the talks held on Wednesday were mostly on electricity and stubble burning. “The next round of discussions will remain focused on legal guarantee for MSP (minimum support price) and the three laws,” he added.

farmers talk

The government had invited farmer leaders for talks, saying that it was committed to resolving the “relevant issues rationally” with a “clean intention and an open mind.”

Responding to the invitation, the farm unions had set a four-point agenda for talks that included modalities to be adopted for the repeal of the three farm laws and amendments to be made and notified in the Commission for the Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020 and the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020 to exclude farmers from their penal provisions.

The agriculture minister acknowledged that protesting farmers had maintained “discipline” so far. “We have urged representatives of the farmer unions to send back the elderly, women and children keeping the cold weather in mind” he added.

Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, are protesting at various borders of the national capital for more than a month against the three new laws. Over 40 farmers have lost their lives to accidents and harsh weather conditions.

Reiterating its previous position, the three-member ministerial panel also proposed to form a committee to discuss the grievances of agitating farmers with regard to the three laws — The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; and, The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. But the proposal was rejected by farmer negotiators.    

However, farmer unions do not seem keen on forming a committee.  All India Kisan Sabha president in Punjab, Balkaran Singh Brar, was quoted in Mint as saying that although the talks were positive, the farmers were not ready to form a committee or end their protest.

"Government has been saying that we should end agitation and form a committee. But we did not listen to them. We will not take back our movement. We will not form any committee. We will discuss MSP in next meet," Brar told Mint.

Meanwhile, in an effort to break the ice, the three Union ministers, Tomar, Piyush Goyal and Som Prakash, shared the lunch arranged by the Delhi Gurudwara Management Committee. It may be recalled that during the earlier talks, farmer union leaders had refused to have lunch and snacks arranged by the government.

Meanwhile, former BJP ally, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) as well as the opposition Congress urged the protesting farmers to talk directly with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying otherwise the dialogue will not yield any result.

Commenting on Wednesday’s meeting with the Centre, former Union minister and SAD’s Bathinda MP, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, said farmers shouldn't fall into the "trap" of extended meetings, "which yield nothing".

“Our farmers are on the cusp of victory. I appeal to them to hold direct talks with the PM to get these agricultural laws repealed,” Badal said in a tweet. “They shouldn't fall into trap of extended meetings which yield nothing,” the Bathinda MP added.

Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar too favoured direct talks with the PM, saying the involvement of the prime minister or Union home minister is a must for any successful dialogue.

In Uttar Pradesh, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav claimed that the ruling Bharatiya Janata party’s ground level workers also want withdrawal of three new farm laws as they feel they will not be able to face the people.

“The BJP government should not ‘cheat’ farmers of the entire country for the benefit of a few rich friends and in today’s talks, withdraw the agriculture laws. The truth is that the ground level worker of the BJP also wants the same because he is not able garner the courage to go among the general people. Political leadership of India has never been so barren,” the former UP chief minister tweeted on December 30.

Taken together, the laws have loosened the rules which decide sale, price and the storage of farm produce. The earlier laws had protected India’s farmers from the free market for decades. Now, most Indian farmers sell their produce at government-run procurement centres, where they have a greater chance of getting a MSP for their produce.

What the new laws do is set up a national framework for farmers to deal directly with private companies, and don’t mention an MSP. Farmers are afraid that they will be exploited by large corporations which will dictate prices.

The laws also allow private companies to hoard essential items for future sale. Until now, only the government could hoard essential supplies; for food security.

The farmers are also not just angry with the laws themselves, but how they came about. They said that they were passed without consultation, are inherently in the interest of big business, and were pushed through Parliament without enough time for a proper debate.

The government argues that these laws will be good for farmers by allowing them to negotiate directly with private companies and will give them access to new and bigger markets.

Farmers have been sitting in protest in the biting cold on Delhi’s borders for over a month now, with more and more joining them in support from other states, such as Rajasthan, Maharashtra, UP, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu among others.

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