The fourth round of talks between the government and leaders of nearly 40 farmer unions remained inconclusive on Thursday even as the crowd of protesters opposed to new farm laws swelled at Delhi borders. There is, however, hope of a breakthrough in the next round of talks scheduled for December 5, Saturday.
Sources told News18 that the Centre is not opposed to providing a written assurance on the minimum support price, which the farmers fear will be phased out under three farm laws passed in September, through an executive order or similar mechanism. The government has also reportedly expressed willingness to revisit the laws that penalise farmers for stubble burning and those pertaining to electricity subsidy laws.
The only sticking point is the farmers’ insistence on completely repealing the three farm laws they say will leave them at the mercy of private buyers -- the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
Sources said the government, which maintains that the reforms will benefit the farmers, is willing to amend the laws to address the concerns of the farming community, but not withdraw them.
The demand was the bone of contention at Thursday’s eight-hour meeting at Vigyan Bhavan. Speaking to reporters after the marathon meeting, Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said there is "no ego involved" and the government has agreed to "discuss and consider with an open mind" all major points of concerns among farmers about the three new laws, including the one on strengthening of the APMC (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee) mandi system, tax parity with proposed private mandis and freedom for farmers to approach higher courts for any dispute resolution.
Besides Tomar, the government side included railways and commerce minister Piyush Goyal and MoS Commerce Som Parkash, who is also an MP from Punjab.
Farmer leaders, too, said the talks proceeded better than Tuesday’s inconclusive meeting.
“Today’s talks were much better and held in a positive environment. Instead of clause by clause discussion that the government had been insisting on, today they heard our issues out. Ministers Goyal and Tomar gave us a positive response on the MSP getting legal backing," Baldev Singh Sirsa of the Lok Bhalai Insaf Welfare Society told News18.
The feeling was echoed by Boota Singh, Pradhan of the Bhartiya Kisan Manch. "Initially, the government was not even willing to discuss legal protection for MSP. Now they have assured legal backing. So it looks like the government is giving in," Singh said.
The All India Kishan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), however, struck a different note. "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 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 with the government on Saturday.
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 said.
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.
The situation at protest sites along Delhi borders is, however, not likely to change with farmer unions saying the agitation will continue till next round of talks on Saturday. "Protests will continue. We will request more people from Punjab to join in," Balwant Singh of the BKU said.
Thursday’s negotiations began at noon and by 3pm seemed headed towards another washout. The 40 farmer leaders present refused the lunch offered by the government and preferred to eat the parantha and raita ferried in an ambulance 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.
“We didn’t eat the food because we have decided that we won’t have anything that the government offers till the agitation is on, till the government takes a decision in our favour," Baldev Singh Sirsa said. "Let’s see if we can have lassi together on the 5th."
Key Delhi-UP Routes Closed
Police on Thursday closed routes on two national highways connecting Ghaziabad to Delhi as farmers stayed put at the national capital's borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. The protesting farmers had on Wednesday threatened to block other roads of Delhi if their demands were not met.
"The local police have closed the routes on NH-9 and NH-24 from Ghaziabad to Delhi. On NH-1, both sides of the route have been closed near Shani Mandir," the Delhi Traffic Police tweeted. "One carriageway of NH 24 for UP to Delhi is closed for traffic at Gazipur border. Likewise, the carriageway from Noida to Delhi at Chilla border is closed for traffic," the traffic police added.
The Delhi-Haryana border at Jharoda and Jhatikra remained closed for traffic movement. The Badusarai border is open only for two-wheeler traffic. The police also kept the Haryana-Delhi border at Singhu and Tikri closed for traffic for the eighth day on the trot.
'Nihangs' from Punjab Join In
A group of 'Nihangs' (traditional Sikh warriors) from Punjab joined the farmers at Delhi's Singhu border on Thursday. Jathedar Lal Singh of Shoromani Budda Dal said more 'Nihangs' would join the farmers' protest at Singhu border and they were on their way from various parts of the state.
A group of Muslim men from Punjab also reached the Singhu border and were seen serving food to protesters. "We are serving a dish called sweet rice, famous in Muslim weddings, to the farmers. We have come at the Singhu border today but our other members had already come earlier. We are staying till the farmers stay," said Mohammad Furkaan (22), who has come from Punjab. The volunteers were also distributing necessary items, including oil, shampoo, toothpaste and soap, to the protesters.