NEW DELHI: The talks between protesting farmer unions and government over the three new farm laws hit a roadblock on Friday as both sides again failed to reach a consensus on the contentious legislations.
At the 11th round of talks, the farmer leaders stuck to their demands for a total rollback of the laws and a legal guarantee for the Minimum Support Price (MSP) system. The Centre, on the other hand, asked the unions to reconsider its proposal for putting the legislations on hold for 12-18 months.
With both sides refusing to budge from their respective position, the talks again ended without any conclusion.
Unlike the last 10 rounds of the talks, there was no decision on the next date for the meeting.
The government appeared to have hardened its position at the meeting, saying it is ready to meet again once the unions agree to discuss the suspension proposal.
This followed a big climbdown made by the Centre during the last round when they offered to suspend the laws and form a joint committee to find solutions.
Farmer leaders said they will intensify their agitation now and alleged that the government’s approach was not right during the meeting.
While the meeting lasted for almost five hours, the two sides sat face to face for less than 30 minutes, they said. In the very beginning, the farmer leaders informed the government that they have decided to reject the proposal made by the government in the last round of talks on Wednesday.
A farmer leader said the government conveyed to them that it is ending the process of meetings.
“The minister made us wait for three and a half hours. This is an insult to farmers. When he came, he asked us to consider the govt’s proposal and said that he is ending the process of meetings,” Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee leader SS Pandher told news agency ANI.
During the meeting, the three central ministers, including Tomar, urged the union representatives to reconsider their stand, after which the two sides went for a lunch break.
The break, during which the farmer leaders had their langar (community kitchen) food, lasted for more than three hours. The break also saw the 41 farmer leaders holding consultations among themselves, at times in smaller groups, while the three central ministers waited in a separate room at Vigyan Bhawan.
Farmers leaders during the 11th round of talks with the central government. (PTI)
After the meeting, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) leader Joginder Singh Ugrahan said the discussions have broken down as the unions rejected the government’s proposal.
The ministers told the unions that they have been given all possible options and they must discuss internally the proposal of suspending the laws.
Tomar told the farmer leaders that the government would be ready for another meeting if farmers want to discuss the proposal, sources said.
The minister also thanked the unions for their cooperation and said while there were no problems with the laws, the government offered to suspend them as respect for the protesting farmers.
Coming out of the meeting venue, farmer leader Shiv Kumar Kakka said there was no headway in the discussions and the government asked unions to deliberate on its proposal again.
Kakka was the first to leave the meeting, but said it was for “some personal reasons”.
In the last round of meetings held on Wednesday, the government had offered to put on hold the three laws and set up a joint committee to find solutions. However, after internal consultations on Thursday, the farmer unions decided to reject the offer and stick to their two major demands — the repeal of the three laws and a legal guarantee of the minimum support price (MSP).
“We told the government that we will not agree to anything other than the repeal of the laws. But the minister asked us to discuss separately again and rethink the matter and convey the decision,” farmer leader Darshan Pal told PTI.
BKU leader Rakesh Tikait said: “We conveyed our position clearly to the government that we want a repeal of the laws and not a suspension. The ministers asked us to reconsider our decision.”
Some leaders expressed apprehensions that the movement will lose its momentum once the farmers go away from Delhi borders.
Harpal Singh, President of Bhartiya Kisan Union — Asli Arajnaitik (Real Apolitical), said, “Even if we accept the government’s offer, our fellow brothers sitting at Delhi borders will not accept anything other than a repeal of the laws. They will not spare us. What achievement will we show to them?”
He also questioned the government’s credibility, alleging it was difficult to believe that they will keep their word on putting the laws on hold for 18 months.
“We will die here but we will not return without getting the laws repealed,” Singh said.
Along with Union agriculture minister Tomar, railways, commerce and food minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash are also participating in the talks with representatives of 41 farmer unions at the Vigyan Bhawan here.
In a full general body meeting on Thursday, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of the protesting unions, rejected the government’s proposal.
“A full repeal of three central farm Acts and enacting a legislation for remunerative MSP for all farmers were reiterated as the pending demands of the movement,” the Morcha said in a statement.
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, are protesting at various border points of Delhi for over a month now against the three laws.
Farmer groups have alleged these laws will end the mandi and MSP procurement systems and leave the farmers at the mercy of big corporates, even as the government has rejected these apprehensions as misplaced.
On January 11, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the three laws till further orders and appointed a four-member panel to resolve the impasse. Bhartiya Kisan Union president Bhupinder Singh Mann had recused himself from the committee appointed by the apex court.
Shetkari Sanghatana (Maharashtra) president Anil Ghanwat and agriculture economists Pramod Kumar Joshi and Ashok Gulati, the other three members on the panel, started the consultation process with stakeholders on Thursday.
(With inputs from agencies)