Farmers’ protest: No breakthrough in ninth round of talks; govt asks farmers to be more ‘flexible’

Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have been camping at various border points of Delhi for nearly two months now in protest against the three controversial farm laws.

In their first meeting with the Centre after the Supreme Court appointed a committee to resolve the deadlock over the three contentious farm laws, the protesting farmer unions stuck to their main demand for a complete repeal of the laws even as the government asked them to be more flexible in their approach and expressed its willingness for necessary amendments.

This was the ninth meeting between the two parties since December last year. Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Railways, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash, who is an MP from Punjab, held talks with the representatives of around 40 farmer unions for over five hours. The two sides will meet again on January 19 at 12 pm.

Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have been camping at various border points of Delhi for nearly two months now against the three farm laws. They fear that these legislations will lead to the weakening of the minimum support price (MSP) system. The three contentious laws are the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020.

The apex court had on Tuesday stayed the implementation of the three central laws till further orders and announced the formation of a committee to hear the grievances of the farmers and the opinion of the government.

Despite their talks with the Centre not yielding significant results, the farmer unions said they were committed to continuing holding direct talks with the government to resolve the issue, even as a committee has been formed by the Supreme Court to resolve the deadlock. “Our demands of repealing of the three farm laws and MSP guarantee remain. We will not go to the committee constituted by the Supreme Court. We will talk to the central government only,” ANI quoted Rakesh Tikait, BKU spokesperson, as saying.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Tomar said detailed discussions took place at the talks but they could not reach a decisive stage. “Talks took place over three farm laws in a cordial atmosphere and detailed discussions took place on some issues, but couldn’t reach a decisive stage,” he said.

“We suggested they can form an informal group of people who can understand the laws better and prepare some concrete proposals, detailing what are farmers’ expectations and what clauses are problematic for them, which the government can consider with an open mind,” the minister said.

Despite the deadlock, the minister said he was hopeful of discussions reaching some decisive stage at the tenth round of talks on January 19.

Tomar said he had no problem with the farmers preferring to continue talks with the government even as the Supreme Court has appointed a panel. “Unions want to continue the dialogue with the government and we have no problem with that. The SC-appointed panel will also work for the welfare of farmers,” he said.

He also said government will also present its side before the committee panel when invited. A solution can emerge from the government-farmers talks as well as from the SC-appointed panel’s deliberations, he added.

“Our effort is to resolve the issue through dialogue and we want the protest to end at the earliest given the adverse weather conditions and the Covid-19 pandemic situation,” he said.

Farmer leader Joginder Singh Ugrahan said the unions urged the government to repeal the three laws, but the Centre was unwilling to do so. He also said the union leaders also raised the issue of NIA raids on transporters in Punjab who were supporting the protests by providing logistic support.

Baljit Singh Bali of Punjab Kisan Morcha said, “In his opening remarks, Tomar ji said you keep saying that the government is adamant and making it an issue of ego, even though we have accepted several demands. Don’t you think you should be flexible and not stick to one single demand of repealing the laws.”

Farmer leader Darshan Pal said there was a good discussion on all three laws. “There is a possibility of some resolution. We are positive,” he added.

Another leader Rakesh Tikait said: “Government has told us that solution should be found through dialogue and not a court. Everyone is of the same view. There is a possibility of some solution.”

PM doesn’t respect farmers: Rahul Gandhi

Earlier in the day, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accused the Centre of trying to tire out those protesting against the new farm laws, saying that the farmers will not relent till the laws are repealed.

Gandhi, along with Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and party MPs, staged a demonstration against the legislations at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar today. “The talks are being held only to delay. PM Modi thinks he has the power and will tire the farmers out, but he is mistaken,” PTI quoted him as saying.

“Narendra Modi does not have basic respect for farmers. He does not even care if over 100 farmers die. He thinks he has the power and the protesting farmers will tire out after some days, but they will not relent,” he said.

“The Prime Minister misunderstands, he thinks this country is run by four to five industrialists, who control him,” Gandhi said, adding that the country is run by farmers, labourers and the youth.

Reacting to Gandhi’s allegations, Agriculture Minister Tomar said, “Rahul Gandhi’s statements and actions are laughed at within his own party also.”

“The Congress manifesto in 2019 itself promised these reforms and therefore Sonia and Rahul Gandhi should tell us whether they were lying at that time or are lying right now,” he said.

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