Police try to stop farmers during a protest demanding better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi. (Image: Reuters)
The meeting of farmer union leaders with the government ended without a breakthrough on December 3. The next round of the meeting will be held on December 5.
Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, one of the three Union ministers talking with farmer union leaders, said the government had interests of farmers in mind and was hopeful that a solution will be arrived in the next meeting.
Tomar appealed to the farmers to end their agitation that has been underway on Delhi outskirts for eight days now.
“Some points have been raised in previous meetings and today's meet. Farmer unions are mainly concerned about these. The government has no ego, it was discussing with farmers with an open mind. Farmers are concerned that the new laws will end APMCs,” Tomar said after the meeting, news agency ANI reported.
Tomar said the Minimum Support Price (MSP) will not be touched, and the government has convinced farmers on this.
"The government will contemplate about seeing that APMC is further strengthened and its usage increases. New laws lay down provision for private mandis outside the purview of APMC. So, we'll also contemplate about having an equal tax for private as well as mandis under AMPC Act," he said.
“The new laws had a provision that disputes will be handled in SDM court. Unions want the disputes to be handled in courts. We are discussing all these issues including an ordinance on stubble burning and the proposed electricity act," the minister said.
Tomar, Railways, Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Piyush Goyal, and Union Minister of State for commerce Som Prakash led the government side during the meeting that lasted seven-and-a-half hours with the representatives of 40 farm organisations at New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan even as the protests by thousands of farmers against a set of farm laws continued on the city outskirts.
Throughout the day, the government tried to convince farmers that the three laws were pro-farmer. The farmer leaders, however, stuck to their demand that the three laws should be repealed. The farmers also asked the government to call a special session of Parliament and abolish the laws.
Tomar emphasised that the MSP will not be touched, however the farmers wanted a written assurance on this.
"The government has given indications over MSP. It seems that their stand over MSP will be fine. The talks have made a little progress," said Rakesh Tikait, Spokesperson, Bharatiya Kisan Union, after the meeting, ANI reported.
"The issue is about the complete roll back of laws. Not only one, but discussions will also be held on several issues. Farmers want that the laws be taken back. The government wants to talk about MSP and amendment to the Acts," he added.
Earlier in the day, the farmers even refused to eat the meals offered by the government. The lunch was brought for the farmers in an ambulance.
The ministers had a meeting with farmers’ union leaders on December 1 that ended without any conclusion. The Centre had asked farm leaders to identify specific provisions in the three farm laws which they were opposed to in the December 1 meeting.
Earlier in the day on December 3, Union Home minister Amit Shah met Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh, ahead of the meeting. Singh said he urged Shah to resolve the issue as this affected Punjab’s economy and the national security.
The farmer organisations, adamant on their demands, hardened their stand on December 2 demanding that the government must call a special session of Parliament to repeal the new farm laws, failing which they may escalate their protest and block all roads to Delhi.
Also, an apex body of transporters has threatened to halt the movement of essential goods across North India and subsequently the entire country if the demands of the farmers protesting against the three farm laws are not met.
The three farm laws: the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, enacted in September, were projected by the Narendra Modi government as long-overdue reforms in the agriculture sector.
However, the anger among farmers, particularly in Congress-ruled Punjab and neighbouring Haryana, has been simmering since the enactment of the laws.
Though the farmers have expressed objection to all the three farm laws, their main problem, essentially, is about the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, or the FPTC Act, and its provisions that, they fear, will weaken the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis.
The government has come in for criticism over its handling of the protest over the last few days as the farmers who had blocked the roads on their way to the capital were at times roughly handled by the police, leading to charges of heavy-handedness by farmers unions and opposition parties.