Centre Says Will Hold Talks With Punjab Farmers Again, Meet to Resolve Rail Blockade Remains Inconclusive
Members of various farmers' organisations block a railway track during a protest over farm bills, in Rupnagar district of Punjab, Friday. (Image: PTI)
Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Friday said the Centre will hold another round of discussion with Punjab farmers protesting against new farm laws amid differences on certain issues. He also said that train services will resume after the state government and protesting farmer unions assure the safety of the tracks.
However, according to sources, the meeting between farmers' unions and the government to resolve the ongoing rail traffic disruption and blockade in Punjab ended inconclusively, with both sides sticking to their ground.
Tomar and Union Food, Commerce and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal held a day-long meeting with representatives of various farmer unions at Vigyan Bhawan here. Officials from the ministries of agriculture, consumer affairs, railways and Punjab were also present. This meeting comes a month after the union agriculture secretary's discussion with Punjab farmers in the national capital remained inconclusive. Farmer bodies had staged a walk out demanding ministerial-level talks.
It also comes ahead of another protest being planned under the banner of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) in Delhi on November 26 and 27 against the three new farm laws enacted by the central government.
Clearly stating their agenda, the farmer leaders demanded that the farm laws be repealed and MSP should be given 'manyata' (legal sanction). The farmers also opposed the anti-pollution law, violation of which can earn a fine of up to Rs 1 crore and a five-year term in jail.
Balwant Singh, General Secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, Punjab said, "If anything comes out in our favor, it will be good. Else, in Punjab, our agitation will intensify. On November 26, we will take over all the roads in Delhi." However, the farmers organisations are set to meet on the November 18 to re-look their strategy.
Speaking to the media on today's talks, Tomar said, "We discussed for long hours. The discussion was held in a cordial atmosphere. But there were differences on the government's view on their (farmers) issues. But we have told (them) that this discussion will continue." He said, however, Punjab farmers have been assured the new farm laws will not have any impact on MSP procurement and mandi system.
"APMC mandi will be there in Punjab and MSP buying will continue there," he said adding that procurement of paddy in this kharif season in Punjab has been significant. Asserting that the Centre is committed towards MSP buying, Tomar said it has procured about 273.35 lakh tonnes of paddy at minimum support price (MSP) so far in this kharif season, out of which Punjab alone has contributed 192.04 lakh tonnes. However, the farmers remained unconvinced on the matter.
On train movement to Punjab, Tomar said, "The railways minister in the meeting said that trains will resume after the state government assures safety of the tracks. Punjab government and farmers have to think over this issue." The Modi government had on October 24 suspended the movement of freight trains to Punjab citing the blockade.
In a separate statement, the agriculture ministry said, "The talks were held in a cordial atmosphere and both sides agreed to continue to hold further discussions."
Briefing about the reforms made in the agri sector to empower the farmers, Tomar in the meeting stressed that agriculture is always a top priority for the government to boost rural economy.
"The new farm laws would not only provide freedom of choice to the farmers to sell their produce at remunerative price but also safeguard the interest of farmers," he said. Tomar also mentioned that the Centre is taking several measures for the welfare of farmers with a specific focus on 'Aatmnirbhar Bharat' (self-reliant India).
However, sources said that despite a day-long discussion, the central government could not reach an accord as Punjab farmers insisted on their core demand that was to repeal the acts and give statutory backing to MSP purchase.
"The meeting remained inconclusive and the ministers after hearing our side said they would again meet shortly to resolve the issue," Bhartiya Kisan Manch president Jathedar Boota Singh Shadipur told.
(With inputs from Rupashree Nanda)