A day after the government again formally invited protesting farmers for talks to break the 24-day logjam on Delhi borders, their leaders said a decision on whether to participate in the talks would be taken in a day or two as there was nothing new in the offer.
Farmers began relay hunger strikes in all protest sites. They said they would make all toll free in Haryana on December 26 and 27 and would beat thalis when Prime Minister sits down to deliver his next Mann Ki Baat address on December 27.
Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait said the government, in its letter, mentioned that it wants to hold talks over its earlier proposal of amendments in the new farm laws. “On this issue (government’s proposal), we did not talk to them earlier. We are discussing how to respond to the letter,” Tikait said.
The sixth round of talks on December 9 was cancelled.
In the letter to 40 union leaders, Agriculture Ministry Joint Secretary Vivek Aggarwal has asked them to specify their concerns over its earlier proposal of amendments in the laws and choose a convenient date for the next round of talks, so that the agitation could end at the earliest.
“There is nothing new in their letter. We have already rejected the government’s proposal to amend the new farm laws. In its letter, the government has asked us to discuss its proposal and convey a date for another round of talks. Don’t they know our demand? We just want a complete repeal of the laws,” another farmer leader Abhimanyu Kohar said.
In the letter, Aggarwal said the Centre was making all efforts with “an open heart” to find an appropriate solution to resolve all concerns raised by farmers.
The officer said that in its draft proposal sent on December 9, the government had proposed to make necessary amendments on at least seven issues, including providing a “written assurance” to the farmers that the existing minimum support price (MSP) system would continue.
Thousands of farmers have been camping at Delhi border points against the new farm laws for 24 days. “It doesn’t make sense that the government is asking us for a date. We are sitting here all day long waiting for the government to hear us. They are the ones who have busy schedules. They should give us a date, or they can simply come to our tents here, see how we are living and talk to us,” said Kashmir Singh, an assistant secretary of the All India Kisan Samiti (Punjab).
Amarjeet Singh Rarra, general secretary of Dwaba Kisan Committee, said farmers are always ready to meet the government, but the Centre has to come to them with a concrete solution. “We have studied their proposals clause by clause, and we have repeatedly told them that we want the laws to be repealed,” Rarra said.
Farmer leaders are likely to meet on Tuesday to discuss the next plan of action, said Gurmeet Singh of Krantikari Kisan Union.
“We have already sent them our proposals, and pointed out the issues we had with the government’s proposal. They need to respond to what we have already told them. On Tuesday, there will be a Sanyukt Morcha meeting to decide how and when to respond to the government. We will evaluate the government’s letter and then decide,” Gurmeet Singh said.
Asked why the talks with the government have failed to yield any result, he said that the three laws were “anti-farmer” and the government was “favouring the corporates” over the farmers and the common man.
“We will meet tomorrow, deliberate and then see what has to be done, but our demand remains the same — we want the laws to be repealed or we won’t move,” said Ram Singh, Haryana state president of Ambedkar Sangharsh Morcha.
Enacted in September, the three farm laws have been projected by the central government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove the middlemen and allow farmers to sell anywhere in the country.
However, protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of MSP and do away with the mandi system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.
The government has repeatedly asserted that the MSP and mandi systems would stay and has accused the opposition of misleading the farmers.