The meeting between the Centre and the farmers protesting against the three farm bills failed to yield any result on Tuesday (December 1) as both the parties stood their ground. The Centre said the talks will continue, with the next round scheduled to be held on December 3. Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar termed the meeting as good.
The talks were attended by representatives of the 36 agitating organisations, 32 of them from Punjab, taking part in the ‘Dilli chalo’ that was in its sixth day on Tuesday. The unions insisted that the three laws should be repealed and rejected a government proposal to form a committee to look into their grievances.
Union minister Tomar, along with Railways and Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce and MP from Punjab Som Parkash, represented the Centre in the talks that were held at Vigyan Bhavan.
Sources said that the representatives categorically told the three Union ministers taking part in the meeting that “now is not the time for a committee.”
“We do not accept the government’s proposal to set up a special committee. We demand that the government cancel the laws related to agrarian reform. We are not going to back down even if the government uses force. Our protest will continue,” Roop Singh, a leader of key farmers’ organisation Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta Grahan), told NDTV.
The government had earlier scheduled the meeting for Thursday (December 3) but said it was advancing the talks to Tuesday citing the spread of COVID and also the cold conditions.
The protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the Centre’s farm laws would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates. The government has maintained that the new laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture.
Tomar on Monday (November 30) had invited leaders of farmer unions for talks on Tuesday, instead of December 3, citing the COVID-19 pandemic and cold.
Sources say in talks with farmers, the government reasserted that the three laws at the core of the protests will not be taken back. However, the government reassured farmers on Minimum Support Price (MSP) and government markets or mandis.
Thousands of farmers across India fear that the laws enacted in September, aimed at bringing reforms to the agriculture sector by allowing farmers to sell anywhere in the country, will deprive them of guaranteed minimum prices. They also worry that government markets or mandis will be scrapped, taking away their assured earning.
Government contends that farmers’ fears are unfounded and that they will be reassured at every level. Chief Ministers of BJP-ruled states are likely to be called upon to bolster the government’s assertions by explaining how the reforms have worked on the ground.
On Monday, the farmers said they have come to the national capital for a “decisive battle” and urged PM Modi to listen to their ‘mann ki baat’. They said that they would continue their agitation until their demands are met.
Meanwhile, the Delhi Police have registered an FIR against unidentified people in connection with a clash between farmers and security personnel at the Singhu border last week, officials said on Monday. The FIR has been registered at Alipur police station, they added.
On Friday, in view of the protests organized by different farmer unions against the recently passed three agricultural laws, security personnel were deployed at Singhu border to maintain law and order, police said.
Around 12.15 pm, the protesters turned violent and tried to enter Delhi in large numbers. Necessary minimum force was used to prevent them from entering the national capital, as a large public gathering is prohibited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a senior police officer said.
“I have sold about 125 quintals of kharif paddy in an APMC mandi and received MSP payment in my bank account. But what is the guarantee this will continue if such trade is permitted outside mandis. This is our worry,” said a protesting farmer Ranveer Singh at Singhu border.
Ranveer Singh 44, Pradhan of Shahbazpur village in Tarn Taran district of Punjab, has travelled with his fellow 125 farmers in six tractor-trolleys covering about 425 km in this winter and reached the Delhi border.
Like other protesting farmers associated with over 32 farm organizations, his only demand is “repeal the three new farm laws” enacted by the Central government which he fears will dismantle the MSP system and put next generation farmers at risk of exploitation by private players.
“No doubt, we are getting MSP now. We are not sure we will get it after 4-5 years. This fight is to protect the interest of next generation of farmers,” he said.
He said many options are given under new laws to trade outside mandis, but this will only weaken the existing government’s APMC (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee) mandi system.
“Like government schools and hospitals, the new farm laws will only weaken our mandis. We know mandis will not go away, but entry of private trade in over next few years will only weaken the mandi system,” he said.
Another farmer Baksheesh Singh, 60, from Patiala said, “All that we are demanding from the Centre is an assurance that the private players like Adanis and Ambanis will not buy below MSP if we sell our produce outside the mandi.”
When asked that the Centre under the new law has provided for dispute resolution mechanism at sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) and District Collector (DC) level, Singh said: “They are government people and they will listen to private players instead of farmers.”
“When the current system is running smoothly, what is the point having new laws. Even arthiyas (middlemen) are private players, but we are dealing with them for many years,” he said.
Another farmer Balavinder Singh from Bathu Chak village in Amritsar district — who has reached the Delhi border to be part of the protest — is of the view that the way farmers are treated by the central government does not instill confidence even if it claims the reforms are in the interest of the farming community.
As per the official data, the government’s paddy procurement has increased by 18.60 per cent to 316.93 lakh tonnes so far in the current kharif season.
Out of which, Punjab alone has contributed 202.74 lakh tonnes which is 63.97 per cent of the total procurement.
Farmers also claimed that they are protesting out of their will and not been funded by any political parties.
In a series of tweets, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad sought to refute criticism of the farm laws by some farmer bodies and opposition parties.
Many misconceptions like the farm bills are a conspiracy to not offer farmers MSP, are being spread, he said, adding that the reality is that these legislations have nothing to do with the minimum support price.
“The MSP has been in force and will remain in force,” he said.
Big companies will not be able to exploit farmers following these laws, as farmers can walk out of contract anytime without paying any penalty, the Union minister asserted.
Union minister Prakash Javadekar said, “Don’t have misconceptions about the farm laws. Farmers of Punjab have sold more paddy in mandi than they did last year and at a higher MSP. MSP is alive and so is mandi. And government purchase is also taking place.”
Upset over the government’s response, Bharat Kisan Union (Dakunda) General Secretary Jagmohan Singh said: “We want unconditional talks with the government. We will not come to the discussion table unless some of our farmers who are in Burari ground are allowed to come out. It is a mini-jail.”