Talks fail: Stalemate drags on as farmers stick to stand

By: |
January 05, 2021 7:15 AM

The two sides got together again to resume their discussions at around 5.15 pm, but no headway could be made as the talks remained focussed on the farmers’ demand for the repeal of the Acts.

Agriculture minister Narendra Singh TomarAgriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar

Even as the seventh round of talks with protesting farmer unions ended inconclusively on Monday, the government is busy evaluating the legal implications of acceding to the key demands of farmers, official sources told FE. It is hopeful of finding a middle path soon to the resolve the vexatious issue, they added.

During the latest round of talks, farmer leaders continued to insist on the repeal of the three contentious farm laws, frustrating even discussions on strengthening of the minimum support price (MSP) mechanism.

Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said: “We wanted to discuss the laws clause-wise, but farmer leaders insisted on repeal of the laws.”

Tomar added: “We have to take into account legal implications and the sentiments of crores of farmers across the country, while finding a solution to the demand (for repeal of laws). Both sides have committed to see that a solution is found at the earliest.” The next meeting will take place on January 8.

Meanwhile, the agriculture ministry is learnt to have drafted various options to strengthen the MSP mechanism, including an extension of the Price Deficiency Payment Scheme (PDPS) for oil seeds under the PM-Aasha scheme to all the 20 kharif and rabi crops, for which MSP are announced. “We are aware of many farmers not getting the benefit of MSP even when mandi prices are lower than the benchmark rates. We are working out a plan with a view to ensuring that the maximum number of farmers get MSP for their crops,” a government source involved in the drafting of the proposals had told FE.

Shiv Kumar Sharma, member, working group of Samyukta Kisan Morcha said after Monday’s talks: “The government proposed to discuss some formula on MSP in the next round of talks.”

The meeting on Monday started with both sides observing a two-minute silence to pay respect to over 50 farmers who have died during the protest so far.

The chances of a solution to the prolonged agitation by farmers at the border of the national capital and elsewhere brightened for the first time on December 30 after the government acceded to two of the four demands raised by farmers. However, soon after, the farmers hardened their stand and announced intensification of the protest, including a tractor parade on January 26 after the completion of the Republic Day function.

A decision on the next course of action will be taken by farmer leaders after they hold an internal meeting on Tuesday, said Darshan Pal, a working group member of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (United Farmers’ Front).

“The talks were mostly on the same points as seen in previous round. We made it clear that we would not discuss this issue anymore as we are very clear on our demand. The government has proposed to discuss some formula on MSP in next round. The MSP issue was briefly discussed as most of the times were taken on repeal of three laws,” said Shiv Kumar Sharma, another working group member of the Morcha.

In the previous meeting, the government had suggested to form an expert committee to weigh the ramifications of a legally mandated MSP system, which farmer leaders rejected. The Centre had already agreed that farmers would be kept outside the ambit of air pollution Ordinance, meaning no stiff penalties will be imposed on them for stubble burning. The farmer unions had demanded that farmers be kept out of the purview of the recently promulgated Ordinance on air pollution, under which up to Rs 1 crore penalty and 5-year imprisonment is provided for stubble burning.

Also it was agreed to continue the current electricity subsidy system for irrigation, where the farmers pay at highly subsidised rates. Farmers now won’t have to pay the full rate and then get the subsidy at bank accounts via the direct benefit transfer system.

On Monday, the two sides took a long break after just about one hour of discussions, during which representatives of protesting farmers had their own food, arranged from langar (community kitchen), as they have been doing for the last few times, PTI reported.

The agency added: However, unlike the last round of talks on December 30, the ministers did not join the union leaders for the langar food and were seen having their own discussion separately during the break, which lasted for almost two hours.

The two sides got together again to resume their discussions at around 5.15 pm, but no headway could be made as the talks remained focussed on the farmers’ demand for the repeal of the Acts.

Farmer leaders said the government said it needs to consult internally and thereafter it would come back to the unions. The union leaders will also have their own meeting on Tuesday to decide their next course of action.

Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, are protesting at various Delhi borders for over a month against the three laws. They have stayed put despite heavy rains and waterlogging at protest sites over the last couple of days, besides severe cold weather conditions prevailing in and around the national capital.

On Sunday, Tomar met defence minister Rajnath Singh and discussed the government strategy to resolve the current crisis at the earliest. Tomar discussed with Singh all possible options to find a “middle path” to resolve the crisis.

Enacted in September 2020, the government has presented these laws as major farm reforms and aimed at increasing farmers’ income.

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