Farm laws: No breakthrough in talks

Talks between three union ministers and a representative group of thousands of agitating farmers failed to yield any resolution on Thursday, as the union leaders stuck to their demand for the repeal of new farm laws and even refused the lunch, tea and water offered to them during almost eight-hour-long hectic parleys.

On its part, the government assured the group of nearly 40 farmer leaders that all their valid concerns would be discussed and considered with an open mind, but the other side flagged several loopholes and deficiencies in the laws, which they said were passed hastily in September.

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, who led the government side at the fourth round of talks at Vigyan Bhawan, later told reporters that the next meeting will take place on Saturday at 2 pm which he hoped would take the matter to a decisive stage and towards a resolution.

He also said there is “no ego involved” and the government has agreed to “discuss and consider with an open mind” some major points of concerns among farmers about the three new laws, including on strengthening of the APMC (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee) mandi system, tax parity with proposed private mandis and freedom for farmers to approach higher courts for any dispute resolution.

He said the Narendra Modi government is committed to continuing, improving and expanding the procurement process at MSP (Minimum Support Price).

Union leaders, who came out of the meeting venue shouting slogans, said the talks remained deadlocked and some of them threatened to boycott any further meetings if no solution was found at Thursday’s meeting.

“Discussions are over from our side. Our leaders have said they will not attend further meetings if a solution is not given today by the government,” said Pratibha Shinde, AIKSCC (All India Kishan Sangharsh Coordination Committee) working group member and president of Lok Sangharsh Morcha, which represents farmers of Maharashtra and Gujarat.

They also did not accept tea and water offered to them during the meeting.

The previous round of talks took place on December 1, but had ended in a stalemate as farmers rejected the government’s suggestion of a new committee to look into their issues.

Akali Dal stalwart and former Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on Thursday returned his Padma Vibhushan award in protest of the new farml aws.

Dissident Akali leader and Rajya Sabha member Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa also said he will return the Padma Bhushan conferred on him last year.

Badal’s move follows over two months after his Shiromani Akali Dal pulled out of the BJP-led NDA at the Centre, protesting against the three laws which deregulate the sale of crops.

Spelling more trouble for the BJP, its coalition partner JJP demanded the withdrawal of cases registered in Haryana against farmers who participated in “Delhi Chalo” march.

Jannayak Janta Party leader Digvijay Singh Chautala said the cases must be withdrawn to ensure that the situation does not worsen and no mistrust is crated between farmers and the government.

Meanwhile, agitated farmers on Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border near Ghazipur failed to enter the national capital by breaking the barricades after the police used lathis to disperse the crowd that tried to break through ad climb over barricades.

Thousands of farmers protesting against the Central farm laws have laid siege at Ghazipur border and on the Delhi-Meerut Expressway in a bid to enter the national capital. The crowd swelled after around 100 tractors reached the protest site at noon.

Police on Thursday closed routes on two national highways connecting Ghaziabad to Delhi as farmers stayed put at the national capital’s borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

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