Centre-farmer talks fail to make headway for 5th time; next meet on Dec 9

The fifth round of meeting between protesting farmer groups and the central government once again failed to reach any conclusion, with farmers sticking to their stand of a total repeal of the contentious new farm laws, and the central government once again reiterating that all sticking points, including concerns over the minimum support price (MSP) mechanism, could be addressed.

The leaders staged a silent protest during the meeting, seeking a clear reply in ‘yes’ or ‘no’ from the government on the said Acts. As the talks headed for another deadlock, the Centre once again called for a meeting on December 9 and agreed to come up in that meeting with concrete proposals to modify the laws. The government also sought help from farmers in the form of their proposals to come up with concrete suggestions.

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.

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

The representatives of thousands of agitating farmers sitting at various borders of the national capital since November 26 said their protest would continue and their call for a ‘Bharat Bandh’ on December 8, a day before the sixth round of talks – the bandh has received the support of trade unions and various other organisations – would be observed with full force.

Tomar, who led the talks from the government side along with Railway, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash, appealed to the unions to send the elderly, women and children back to their homes from protest sites, given the cold weather conditions.

Addressing media after the meeting, the agriculture minister said the government had assured the farmers that procurement at minimum support price would continue and mandis would be strengthened.

“We wanted some firm suggestions from farmer leaders on some key issues but could not get those in today’s meeting. We will meet again on December 9. We have told them that the government will consider all their concerns and our efforts will be to find a solution,” Tomar said. “It would have been easier if they had given those suggestions today itself. We would wait for their suggestions.”

He also thanked the farmer unions for maintaining discipline in their agitation, but urged them to leave the path of protest and engage in dialogue. He said the Modi government was always committed to farmers’ interests and would remain so. The three negotiating ministers, along with their senior colleagues Rajnath Singh and Amit Shah, had also called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to deliberate over likely proposals for the agitating groups.

Farmers have threatened to intensify their agitation and block more roads leading to the national capital if the government does not accept their demands.

The three farm laws have been presented by the government as major reforms in the agriculture sector to remove the middlemen and allow farmers to sell anywhere in the country. However, the protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of Minimum Support Price and scrap the mandis, leaving them at the mercy of big corporate players. The Centre has maintained that the MSP and mandi systems would continue and would in fact be improved and strengthened further.

At today’s meeting, held at Vigyan Bhawan in Delhi, farmers’ representatives again consumed their own food and tea, just like they had done at the previous round of talks on Thursday. At one point, they even threatened to walk out of the discussions if the government was not ready to accept their main demand of repealing the three contentious laws.

Towards the end of the meeting, the farmer leaders sat on a ‘maun vrat‘ (vow of silence) for about an hour, while keeping a finger on their lips and holding a paper in another hand with “Yes or No” written there.

After the meeting, BKU Ekta (Ugrahan) President Joginder Singh Ugrahan told PTI that the government offered various amendments to the laws but the farmers wanted the laws to be repealed completely. Onkar Singh Agaul, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal) general secretary, said they were on a ‘maun vrat‘ as the government was not giving a clear-cut reply on whether it would repeal the farm laws or not. One union leader said the government told them that they would first send the proposal to farmers’ representatives and they would come for the next meeting after studying those. He also said the farmer leaders had not given any indication of backing down on their demands, but they could see a change in the government’s attitude in favour of ending the logjam.

The All India Kisan Sabha later said in a statement that it condemned the “deliberate prolonging of the talks” and alleged that the government was working at the behest of corporate players. It said hundreds of thousands of farmers were already on streets in biting cold and the government’s delaying tactics would result in much greater participation and solidarity from all sections of the society.

As the meeting resumed after a tea break in the evening, the farmer leaders threatened to walk out if the government was not willing to scrap the three laws enacted in September. While the government managed to convince them to continue with the talks, sources said some kind of division emerged among the participating farmer leaders on some proposals made by the ministers. Another source said the government also offered to take back cases filed against farmers for stubble burning, as also the cases filed against some farmer activists.

Later in the evening, according to sources, the ministers began talking to smaller groups of three-four farmer leaders, out of a total of 40 representatives present there. At the beginning of the meeting, Tomar told the group of farmer unions that the government was committed to cordial talks and welcomed all positive feedback on the new farm laws.

Later, Som Parkash, who is also a member of Parliament from Punjab, addressed the leaders in Punjabi and said the government understood the sentiments of the state. “We are ready to address all your concerns with an open mind,” a source quoted Parkash as telling the union leaders.

Outside the meeting venue, employees of the Indian Tourist Transporters Association (ITTA), which has supplied vehicles for the transit movement of the protesting farmers, were seen holding a banner which read ‘We support farmers’ and shouting slogans backing the peasants’ agitation.

On Thursday, too, the talks had failed to yield any resolution, as union leaders had stuck to their demand for the new farm laws to be repealed, even as the government offered to “discuss and consider with an open mind” some key points of concern raised by farmers in the three new laws.

The first round of talks had taken place in October, but the farmer leaders had walked out from that meeting as no minister was present. This was followed by a second round on November 13. The last three rounds have taken place after thousands of farmers, first from Punjab and Haryana and later from other states as well, laid siege to various borders of the national capital.