New Delhi: Marathon talks between the government and agitating farmer unions on Thursday failed to end the standoff over the new farm laws as the protestors refused to budge on their demands and another round of discussions will be held two days later in a bid to forge a resolution.
The government side, led by Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, assured the group of nearly 40 farmer leaders that all their valid concerns would be discussed and considered with an open mind, but the other side stuck to their demand of repealing the three “hastily-passed” farm laws, saying there were several loopholes and deficiencies.
After the eight-hour-long meeting, Tomar said the government will consider all issues on Friday and so will the union leaders, before coming to the table again on Saturday.
Asked whether the government is ready to amend the three contentious laws, he said, “I am not a fortune teller. When we will meet the day after, we hope to move towards a resolution.”
“There should not be any doubt in anyone’s mind. Still, if farmers have any worries on that front, we would want to assure them that the new laws do not present any threat to the MSP system,” he said.
Meanwhile, Akali Dal stalwart and former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal returned his Padma Vibhushan award in protest against the Centre’s new farm laws.
Dissident Akali leader and Rajya Sabha member Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa also said he will return the Padma Bhushan conferred on him last year. Earlier, some former Punjab sportsmen too have threatened to return their awards.
Badal’s move follows over two months after his Shiromani Akali Dal pulled out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre, protesting against the three laws which deregulate the sale of crops.
Stepping up their stir, thousands of protesting farmers from Uttar Pradesh blocked National Highway-9 near the UP Gate, while thousands from Punjab and Haryana stayed put at other points of the national capital. The protesters had on Wednesday threatened to block other roads of Delhi in the coming days if the new agriculture laws are not scrapped soon.
Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Naresh Tikait held a ‘maha panchayat’ at the protesting site — Gazipur border. He said that there is no midway for settlement on the issue of MSP, adding that the government must give assurance in writing to farmers.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh made an appeal to Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the protesting farmers to find an early resolution to the impasse, saying the agitation was affecting Punjab’s economy and the nation’s security.
Singh met Shah at the latter’s residence here. “I came to meet the Home Minister to reiterate our position and to make a request to him and the farmers to resolve this soon because this (agitation) affects the economy of my Punjab as well as the security of the nation,” he said.
Asked if he was trying to mediate between the agitating farmers and the central government, Singh said a discussion was going on between the two sides.
Farmer leaders, who came out of the meeting venue shouting slogans, said the talks remained deadlocked and some of them threatened to boycott any further meetings if no solution was found at Thursday’s meeting.
“Discussions are over from our side. Our leaders have said they will not attend further meetings if a solution is not given today by the government,” said Pratibha Shinde, AIKSCC (All India Kishan Sangharsh Coordination Committee) working group member and president of Lok Sangharsh Morcha, which represents farmers of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Another farmer leader Kulwant Singh Sandhu said the government made many proposals including on MSP and procurement system, which would be discussed among the farmer organisations on Friday, before the next meeting.
AIKSCC General Secretary Hannan Mollah said the main demand of the unions remains the repeal of the three Acts and the government also listened to the 8-10 specific deficiencies pointed out by the farmer leaders.
“We do not want any amendment. We want the Acts to be repealed,” he asserted.
Mollah said all farmer organisations would meet on Friday at 11 am to take a collective call for the next round of talks with the government.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ambarta) President Rishipal said, “The government noted all points. Ministers assured that they will look into them and sought one day’s time.”
However, the farmers’ unions stuck to their demand of repealing all three farm laws, else they will intensity the protest, he said.
Besides Tomar, the government side included Railways, Food and Consumer Affairs, and Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal; and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash, who is also an MP from Punjab.
The farmer leaders present at the meeting refused the lunch offered by the government and preferred to eat the food ferried in a van from the Singhu border, where thousands of their colleagues are sitting in protest.
They also did not accept tea and water offered to them during the meeting, which began around mid-day.
The previous round of talks had taken place on December 1, but had ended in a stalemate even after three hours of discussion as farmers’ groups rejected the government’s suggestion of a new committee to look into their issues.
Farmers from several districts of western Uttar Pradesh continued their sit-in demonstration at the Chilla Border between Noida and Delhi amid heavy deployment of security personnel. The protest also led to partial closure of a key road connecting Noida and Delhi. One carriageway of the Delhi-Noida Link road – from Delhi to Noida- was open for commuters, while the other side – Noida to Delhi – remained closed, causing inconvenience to travellers.
The Delhi-Haryana border at Jharoda and Jhatikra remained closed for traffic movement. The Badusarai border is open only for two-wheeler traffic.
However, people can travel to Haryana through Dhansa, Daurala, Kapashera, Rajokri, NH 8, Bijwasan/Bajghera, Palam Vihar and Dundahera border points, the traffic police have said.
The police also kept the Haryana-Delhi border at Singhu and Tikri closed for traffic for the eighth day on the trot.
In Chennai, the DMK said its chief M K Stalin will lead party-sponsored demonstrations in different cities of Tamil Nadu on Saturday in support of farmers.
Stalin will participate in the protest at Salem, the native district of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister K Palaniswami, according to a party release.
The BJP’s coalition partner JJP in Haryana demanded withdrawal of cases registered against farmers who participated in ‘Delhi Chalo’ march.
Jannayak Janta Party leader Digvijay Singh Chautala said the cases against farmers must be withdrawn to ensure that the situation does not worsen and no mistrust is crated between farmers and the government.
Enacted in September, the laws have been projected by the government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will 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 corporates. The Centre has repeatedly asserted that these mechanisms will remain.