New Delhi/Chandigarh, December 30
The government and farm unions reached some common ground on Wednesday to resolve protesting farmers’ concerns over rise in power tariff and penalties for stubble burning, but the two sides remained deadlocked over the main contentious issues of the repeal of three farm laws and a legal guarantee for MSP.
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar confirmed that the two sides have arrived at an agreement on Electricity Bill and Air Quality Management Ordinance.
He said discussions on the three agriculture laws and the MSP as a guarantee for farmers will continue in the next meeting scheduled for January 4.
Farm leader Gurnam Singh Charuni said the government has agreed to exclude farmers from air quality management ordinance and take back the electricity draft bill.
After nearly five hours of the sixth round of negotiations between three union ministers and a 41-member representative group of thousands farmers protesting on Delhi borders, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said at least 50 per cent resolution has been reached with mutual agreement on two out of four items on the agenda and discussions would continue on the remaining two on January 4.
“Discussions on the three farm laws and MSP are continuing and will continue in the next round of talks on January 4,” Tomar told reporters after the meeting ended.
He said talks were held in a cordial atmosphere and the two sides reached an agreement on two issues — one relating to the proposed electricity law and the other about an ordinance on penal provisions for stubble burning.
He hailed the unions for maintaining peace and discipline during their protest, but urged them to send the elderly, women and children back to their homes due to the extreme cold weather.
Tomar said the union leaders kept insisting on repeal of the three farm laws, but the government side tried to explain them the benefits of the Acts and sought to know specific problems faced by the farmers.
On farmers’ demand for a legal guarantee for procurement at Minimum Support Price (MSP), the minister said the government has already said it is ready to give a written assurance.
“Talks will continue on these two issues,” Tomar said.
After the meeting, Union leader Kalwant Singh Sandhu said Wednesday’s talks mostly focussed on electricity and stubble burning, while the next meeting on January 4 would focus on the MSP guarantee and the three farm laws.
Tomar was accompanied by Food and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash at the meeting.
Meanwhile, three union ministers joined farm leaders on Wednesday to share ‘langar’ food arranged by protesting farmers during the talks to resolve the deadlock over new farm laws.
The ‘langar’ (community kitchen) food arrived in a van at the meeting venue, Vigyan Bhawan, after around two hours of discussions had taken place and the two sides took a break for tea and snacks.
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Food and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash joined the farmer leaders to share their langar food during the break.
Before start of the meeting, some union leaders had said farmers in some parts of the country are being forced to sell crops, including paddy, below the Minimum Support Price as market rates have fallen and asserted that the agitation will continue till the government agrees to their demands.
“After new farm laws were implemented in Uttar Pradesh, prices of crops have fallen by 50 per cent. Crops are being bought at below MSP. Paddy is being sold at Rs 800 per quintal. We will raise these issues in the meeting,” Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait told reporters earlier.
“We will not leave Delhi till our demands are met. We will celebrate New Year at borders,” he said.
Punjab farmer leader Baldev Singh Sirsa came for the meeting carrying placards of media reports of fraudulent cases reported in Guna and Hosangabad after implementation of the new laws.
“We don’t have any new agenda. The government is maligning us by saying farmers are not coming for talks. So we gave December 29 date for talks. We have given them our clear agenda but the government is insisting that laws are beneficial for farmers,” Sirsa said.
Showing media reports, he said more fraudulent cases are being reported after the implementation of the new laws and these issues will be raised in the meeting.
Tomar headed the government side, which also included Goyal and Parkash, who is an MP from Punjab.
The sixth round of talks was originally scheduled for December 9 but it was called off after an informal meeting of Home Minister Shah with some union leaders failed to reach any breakthrough.
The government had, however, followed up Shah’s meeting with a draft proposal sent to these farmer unions in which it had suggested 7-8 amendments to the new laws and written assurance on the MSP procurement system. The government has ruled out a repeal of the three agri laws.
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, are protesting at various borders of the national capital for more than a month against these three new laws.
The government has presented these laws as major agriculture reforms aimed at helping farmers and increasing their income, but the protesting unions fear that the new legislations have left them at the mercy of big corporates by weakening the MSP and mandi systems. TNS/PTI