The seventh round of talks between protesting unions and three central ministers ended inconclusively on Monday as the farmer leaders insisted on the repeal of the three contentious farm laws right from the beginning, even as the government listed various benefits from the Acts.
The next meeting will take place on January 8, farmer leaders said.
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.
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.
In Monday’s talks, the two sides did not even discuss another key demand of farmers for a legal guarantee to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) procurement system.
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.
Enacted in September 2020, the government has presented these laws as major farm reforms and aimed at increasing farmers’ income.
During the meeting, the government listed various benefits from the three laws, enacted a few months ago, but farmers kept insisting that the legislation must be withdrawn to address their apprehensions that the new Acts would weaken the MSP and mandi systems and leave them at the mercy of big corporates.
The government has maintained that these apprehensions are misplaced and has ruled out repealing the laws.
Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Railways, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash, who is an MP from Punjab, are holding the talks with the representatives of 41 farmer unions at the Vigyan Bhawan.
The meeting began with paying respects to the farmers who lost their lives during the ongoing protest, sources said.
On December 30, the sixth round of talks was held between the government and the farmer unions, where some common ground was reached on two demands — decriminalisation of stubble-burning and continuation of power subsidies.
However, no breakthrough could be reached on the two main demands of the protesting farmers — a repeal of the three recent farm laws and a legal guarantee to the MSP procurement system.
On Sunday, Tomar met Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and discussed the government strategy to resolve the current crisis at the earliest, sources said.
Tomar discussed with Singh all possible options to find a “middle path” to resolve the crisis, they added.
While several opposition parties and people from other walks of life have come out in support of the farmers, some farmer groups have also met the agriculture minister over the last few weeks to extend their support to the three laws.
Last month, the government had sent a draft proposal to the protesting farmer unions, suggesting seven-eight amendments to the new laws and a written assurance on the MSP procurement system. The government has ruled out a repeal of the three agri laws.
The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), in the meantime, issued a press statement condemning the police action against protesting farmers in Punjab and Haryana and a ban on protests and dharnas imposed by the Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh government.
It also said that an affidavit filed by Reliance Industries in the Punjab and Haryana High Court was “a ploy to save its business”.