The Centre failed to break a deadlock over controversial new farm laws at a meeting with leaders of protesting farmer unions on Tuesday, with the latter saying their demonstrations will continue as will their blockades of key highways that lead to Delhi.
The farmers rejected the government’s offer to set up an expert committee to discuss the new laws, which deregulate crop pricing, even as agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar appealed for an end to agitation and invited the farmers for further discussions on Thursday.
"The farmer's organisations rejected the government's proposal to form a five-member committee to look into the issues related to the new farm laws," Roopsingh Sanha, member of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), said.
Sanha said he was informed about the stand taken by the representatives at the meeting by the farmer union's president Joginder Singh Ugrahan over the phone. It is one of the largest blocks of farmers who have been protesting against the new laws.
Farmers have been protesting the laws for nearly two months in Punjab and Haryana — where they have been blocking key highways. The situation escalated last week when tens of thousands of them marched to the national capital, where they clashed with police who used tear gas, water cannons and batons against them.
The farmers have since camped along at least five major highways on the outskirts of New Delhi and have said they won't leave until the government rolls back what they call “black laws”.
The farmers say the laws rushed through Parliament in September will lead the government to stop buying grain at minimum support prices and result in exploitation by corporations who will push down prices. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government has defended the bills enacted in September as a way to rid the vast agriculture sector of antiquated procurement procedures and to allow farmers to sell to institutional buyers and big international retailers.
In talks on Tuesday that lasted several hours, agriculture minister Tomar and commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal met more than 30 farmers' representatives. Following the meeting, Tomar said farmer leaders have been asked to come with specific issues in the new farm laws.
“We had a detailed discussion. We will again meet on December 3. We suggested to them to form a small committee, but they said they all will be present in the meeting. So, we agreed to that," Tomar said.
An earlier meeting between government and farmers on November 13 had failed to give any breakthrough and the next one was originally scheduled for December 3, but was advanced due to the ongoing protests on Delhi borders.
The protests have also provoked a diplomatic spat between India and Canada, which is home to a large Punjabi-origin diaspora.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau published a video message on Twitter in which he said the demonstrations were "concerning" and defended the right to peaceful protest.
"We've reached out through multiple means directly to the Indian authorities to highlight our concerns," he added.
India's foreign ministry responded by hitting out at "ill-informed comments by Canadian leaders relating to farmers in India", without directly naming Trudeau.