Yielding some ground to end the almost two-month-long protest held by thousands of farmers at Delhi borders, the Central government on Wednesday proposed to hold the three contentious farm laws for 1-1.5 years.
The government also offered to set up a joint committee to find an amicable solution in the interest of the farming community.
During the tenth round of negotiations between farmers and three central ministers, the two sides decided to meet again on Friday after the union leaders hold their own internal consultations on Thursday to decide on the government’s new proposal.
Briefing media after a nearly five-hour-long meeting that included two breaks, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government has proposed to suspend implementation of the three laws for 1-1.5 years, during which period a joint committee of representatives from the government and farmers’ sides can continue their talks and those protesting on Delhi borders in extremely cold weather return to their homes.
The three laws have already been stayed by the Supreme Court till further orders and a committee of experts has been formed to resolve the deadlock. The panel has been asked by the apex court to submit its report within two months after consulting all stakeholders.
The committee held its first meeting on Tuesday and will begin its consultations with farmer groups and others from Thursday.
After the meeting, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) president Joginder Singh Ugrahan said, “The government proposed to suspend the farm laws for one and a half years. We rejected the proposal but since it has come from the government, we will meet tomorrow and deliberate over it.”
Another farmer leader Kavitha Kuruganti said the government also proposed to submit an affidavit in the Supreme Court for suspending the three farm laws for a mutually-agreed period and set up a committee.
Earlier during the meeting, the government also again offered to amend the three laws but farmer leaders stuck to their demand for a complete repeal and alleged that the Centre was avoiding discussion on a legal guarantee for MSP.
Farmer leaders said there was no breakthrough in the first two sessions as both sides were stuck on their stated positions vis-a-vis the three farm laws and it was clear from the very beginning that there was little hope of any outcome other than fixing the date for the 11th round.
Tomar, however, said the government was keen to reach a final decision in today’s meeting on the auspicious day of Gurupurab and therefore it started with greetings for the occasion.
The minister said the talks were held in a cordial atmosphere and farmers remained adamant on their demand for the repeal of the laws. He, however, asserted that some headway was made towards reaching a solution in the next meeting to end the agitation.
The minister said the new proposal has been made to allay farmers’ apprehensions and instill confidence that the government is ready for discussion with an open heart.
The modalities of the proposed panel, including the number of members, can be finalised after the two sides reach an in-principle agreement on this proposal, the minister said.
At the meeting, farmer leaders also raised the issue of NIA notices being served to some farmers, alleging it was being done just to harass those supporting the agitation, to which the government representatives said they will look into the matter.
The meeting began at around 2.45 pm with the three ministers greeting farmer leaders on the occasion of Gurupurab and the two sides took a lunch break after around one hour of discussions when farmer leaders had langar food.
The meeting resumed at around 5.15 pm after the lunch break, but the two sides took another break at around 6 pm during which the farmer leaders discussed the government proposal for suspending the laws for a fixed period of time.
Kuruganti said the meeting began with the NIA issue, followed by unions’ demand for a repeal of the laws.
The farmer leaders presented multiple Parliament replies given by the agriculture minister where he had stated that agriculture is a state subject, while one reply mentioned even agri-marketing as a state subject.
Tomar was accompanied by Railways, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash, who is an MP from Punjab, at the talks with 41 representatives of farmer unions at Vigyan Bhawan here.
Before the meeting, the three ministers also met senior BJP leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The tenth round of talks was initially scheduled on January 19, but later got postponed to Wednesday.
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, are protesting at various border points of Delhi for over a month now against the three laws. Farmer groups have alleged these laws will end the mandi and MSP procurement systems and leave the farmers at the mercy of big corporates, even as the government has rejected these apprehensions as misplaced.
Earlier in the day, a group of farm union leaders met top officials of Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh police to discuss the route and arrangements for their tractor rally on January 26 to protest against the three farm laws.
But the unions rejected a suggestion by police officers to hold their rally on the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway instead of Delhi’s Outer Ring Road, sources said.