Center to okay only if farmers okay law freeze

After internal consultations, the farmers’ unions decided to reject the offer and stick to their two major demands

NEW DELHI: The government’s negotiations with the protesting farmers’ unions hit a roadblock on Friday as the farmer leaders once again stuck to their demands for repeal of the three agriculture laws and a legal guarantee for MSP, even as the Centre asked them to reconsider its proposal for putting the laws on hold for 12 to 18 months.

Unlike the last 10 rounds of talks, at Friday’s meeting the two sides could not even reach a decision on the next date as the government also hardened its position saying it is ready to meet once the unions agree to discuss the suspension proposal.

On Thursday, the government offered to put on hold the three laws and set up a joint committee to find solutions. After internal consultations, the farmers’ unions decided to reject the offer and stick to their two major demands.

Even though the 11th round of talks lasted for nearly five hours, the two sides sat face to face for less than 25 minutes. The talks were held in two sessions — the morning session lasted for about 15 minutes, after which the Central ministers left the meeting room. After about four hours, the ministers again came and held discussions for less than 10 minutes.

“This is an insult to farmers. When agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar came, he asked us to consider the government’s proposal and said that he is ending the process of meetings,” said S.S. Pandher of Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, adding that their agitation will continue peacefully.

Mr Tomar told kisan unions that the government is ready for another meeting if farmers want to discuss the proposal on suspending agriculture laws for a while. He told the unions that “the government was grateful for their cooperation”.

The minister reiterated that there was nothing wrong in the three laws. “We gave the best proposal but you could not arrive at any decision. If you arrive at any conclusion please let us know, we will discuss again,” he said.

After the meeting, Mr Tomar said: “We should remain hopeful. Let's wait till tomorrow to hear farmer unions' final decision.” Asked whether he expects the farmers to agree to the government offer, he said, "I don't want to speculate, but we are hopeful that farmer unions will consider positively our proposal."

The minister also said some external forces were definitely trying to ensure that the agitation continues and that was obviously against the interests of farmers. “No resolution is possible when the sanctity of an agitation is lost,” he added.

Bhartiya Kisan Union spokesperson Rakesh Tikait said that the farmers have decided to once again deliberate upon the government’s proposal to postpone the implementation of the new farm laws. However, he said, the farmers are firm on their demand of complete repeal of the new laws. “If the stalemate continues, the protest will be scaled up, starting with the tractor rally on Republic Day,” he added.

Farmer leader Shiv Kumar Kakka, who was the first to leave the talks, said there was no headway in the discussions and the government had asked the unions to once again deliberate upon its proposal.

After the meeting, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) leader Joginder Singh Ugrahan said the discussions have broken down as the unions have outrightly rejected the government's proposal.

Farmers’ leaders told the Centre that they are firm on their stated stance and have already decided that they would not settle for anything less than the repeal of the three laws.

Some leaders had apprehensions that their agitation would lose momentum once the farmers leave Delhi borders – where protests have been going on for about two months.

Harpal Singh, president, Bhartiya Kisan Union (Asli Arajnaitik), said: "Even if we accept the government's offer, our fellow brothers sitting at Delhi borders will not accept anything other than a repeal of the laws. They will not spare us. What achievement will we show to them?… We will die here but we will not return without getting the laws repealed."

Farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal said the unions will now concentrate on the Republic Day tractor march. “It will be a unique event. We have told the government and the Delhi police that we will march peacefully on the Outer Ring Road on January 26. If there is violence, the government will be responsible,” he added.

During the meeting, the unions also alleged that Delhi Police was trying to harass their leaders. One of the union leaders alleged that the rear windshield of his car was smashed by the police. Another alleged that he had received a threatening call. Farmer leader Hannan Mollah alleged he was mishandled by the police. The government assured these leaders that their complaints would be investigated.

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