NEW DELHI/ BATHINDA: The seventh round of talks between the Centre and farm unions on Monday remained inconclusive.
The latter insisted the new farm laws must be scrapped — which has been at the top of their agenda — and nothing less was acceptable. The government countered and continued to press the unions on any alternative to repeal.
The Centre suggested the laws affected the entire country and thus were were relevant beyond Punjab, Haryana and west UP, represented by most of the 41 farm organisations taking part in the talks. It said it needed to discuss the issue with agri unions of other states as well.
The two sides agreed to meet again on January 8.
As the stalemate continued, agriculture minister Narendra Tomar and railways and consumer affairs minister Piyush Goyal, both of whom participated in the talks, assured the farmers they would get back after further consultations within the government as well as with pan-India farm unions.
“We wanted farmer unions to discuss three laws clause-wise. There is a need to take a forward movement from both sides. The government is ready to discuss, keeping all alternatives in mind. We could not reach any solution as farmer unions remained adamant on repeal of the laws,” said Tomar after the meeting.
Asked whether farmers should also relent to end the stalemate, Tomar said, “Svabhaavik roop se taaliyaan donon hee haath se bajtee hain (naturally you need to use two hands for clapping).”
He, however, said he still hoped that there would be a meaningful discussion during the next meeting and both sides “will come to a conclusion”.
During the meeting, Tomar again appealed to farm leaders to think about alternatives to repeal of laws. Farm unions, however, rejected the suggestion, saying there is “no alternative to repeal and the government can withdraw it quickly through ordinance” when Parliament is not in session. The minister also wanted them to talk on MSP issues which were discussed though the unions concentrated on the laws.
“We only took up the repeal issue. We told them unequivocally that the farmers first want repeal of laws. It’s not just about demand of 40 unions who have been engaged through talks. It’s, in fact, wish of over 450 farmer organisations from across the country,” said Kavitha Kuruganti of Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch after attending the talks.
The meeting on Monday began after observing a two-minute silence to pay homage to over 55 farmers who died during the protests. Unlike the previous meeting on December 30 when the ministers and farmers had shared ‘langar’ (food brought in by unions) at Vigyan Bhawan, the two sides sat separately during the lunch break. After the break, the ministers were in a huddle separately for few minutes before resuming the talks post-break.
Angry over the absence of the ministers, a few farmer leaders banged tables during the meeting and made it clear that they would not accept anything less than the repeal of the three contentious laws. On the MSP issue, union leaders wanted to know when the Centre would give legal guarantee on MSP for crops.
“The ministers told the farm leaders that due process will have to be followed for it. We then asked when the process would be put in motion, when the draft would be prepared, when the ordinance would be issued and when the matter would be put before Parliament. The ministers said all these details would be discussed at the next meeting on January 8,” BKU Krantikari president Surjit Singh Phool told TOI.
BKU Ekta Ugrahan president Joginder Singh Ugrahan said not much came of the talks as the Union government is not ready to repeal the laws. “We do not want anything less than the repeal of the laws. The Union government did not give us complete assurance on MSP and only said that the modalities would be given in the next meeting,” he said.
“Kanoon wapsi nahin, to ghar wapsi nahin (we will not go home until the laws are withdrawn),” said Rakesh Tikait of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, summing up the mood among the farmers, after attending the talks.