Farmer-govt talks today; 2 key demands on table

New Delhi: The Centre and farm unions protesting against a set of laws aimed at opening up agricultural markets will hold their seventh round of negotiations on Monday that could shape the outcome of the.long-drawn-out dialogue process. Two of the biggest demands of farmers will be on the agenda on Monday.

Monday’s talks are set to take up the farmers’ demand to repeal the three farm laws they say will hurt their livelihoods and a law guaranteeing minimum support prices for farm produce.

The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the platform of farm unions, has hardened its stand, saying on Saturday that thousands of farmers will drive into the Capital on their tractors to hold their own Republic Day parade if their demands are not met by January 26.

Union ministers Narendra Singh Tomar, Piyush Goyal and Som Prakash will lead the government side, while 40 leaders of farm union will represent farmers at the talks.

The widely anticipated sixth round of talks on December 30 made some headway in the standoff between the Union government and protesting farm unions, with the Centre agreeing to spare farmers of heavy fines for crop-residue burning, as provided for in an anti-pollution ordinance, and to continue the current mechanism of giving subsidised power for agricultural use.

The two principal demands of a repeal of three new farm laws and a legal guarantee of minimum support prices were deferred until January 4.

In the December 30 talks, the government offered to form a five-member panel to examine the farm laws and had asked farm leaders to suggest alternatives to a repeal of the laws, both of which were rejected by the farmers.

The farm unions have been steadfast on their demand that the government scrap the three new agricultural laws approved by Parliament in September, and to being a new legislation guaranteeing that all farm produce be bought at federally fixed assured rates.

Farm unions have launched one of the largest strikes in decades to demand that the Centre revoke the three contentious laws.

The laws essentially change the way India’s farmers do business by creating free markets, as opposed to a network of decades-old, government marketplaces, allowing traders to stockpile essential commodities for future sales and laying down a national framework for contract farming.

These laws are the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020.

“The success of tomorrow’s talks depend entirely on the repeal of these three Farm Acts,” said Avik Saha, the secretary of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a major platform of protesting farmers.

Saha said there had been much speculation about procedures for repeal of the Acts. “AIKSCC clarifies that it can be done by an Ordinance followed by a Parliamentary repeal and the Constitution provides for the government and Parliament to make as well as repeal laws. They are neither time-consuming, nor complicated.”

A government official, requesting anonymity said, the Centre would “take up each and every objection and apprehension of the farmers”. “I don’t want to speculate on anything now,” he said.

Analysts say they don’t expect every issue to be concluded during Monday’s talks. “Both demands are complicated. It is unlikely that both can be settled in one round. The government may present a formula to ensure assured prices for farmers based purely on the possibilities,” said Ramesh Kavi, a former faculty member at Dharwad Agricultural University.

Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Sunday hit out at the Narendra Modi government for not heeding the demands of farmers to repeal the three laws

“In this biting cold and rain, our farmers have been protesting on the borders of Delhi for 39 days now. Their plight is a concern for all the citizens and I,” Gandhi said in a statement.

“More than 50 farmers have lost their lives because of the government’s harsh attitude towards the protests. Some have even committed suicide. Neither has their decision moved the Modi government or any of its ministers, nor have they uttered a word of consolation. I offer my tribute to those who have passed away and prayers and strength to their families.”

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