NEW DELHI/BATHINDA: Farm unions opposed to the new laws on Saturday agreed to resume talks with the Centre and proposed December 29 as a likely date, provided the agenda includes four specific points, including modalities to repeal the laws and a legal guarantee for higher minimum support price (MSP).
Underlining these top two issues, a ‘conditional’ proposal was sent to the Centre from the group of 40 protesting unions, including 32 from Punjab, two days after they had received the agriculture ministry’s revised proposal that mentioned it was ready to discuss all issues, including MSP.
Since the unions in their Saturday letter set out the outstanding issues according to the “sequence” proposed by them — repeal of laws and MSP guarantee are the first and second — officials in the ministry feel the formulation can complicate negotiations with even less prickly matters getting stuck with the deal-breakers.
Though the agriculture ministry has agreed on a wide-ranging discussion, it has indicated its unwillingness to consider scrapping the laws it says benefit a large majority of farmers. The insistence of the agitating farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana and some from west UP, that the laws be rolled back has been the central hurdle since talks began on October 13.
The other two points which the unions want to be added are keeping farmers outside the ambit of penalty provision on stubble burning in the new ordinance on air quality management in Delhi-NCR and changes in the proposed Electricity Amendment Bill to protect the interests of farmers. These are not a sticking point, as the agriculture ministry in its last letter to farm unions on December 24 agreed to discuss additional points and has also hinted that the demands can be met.
“If you are sincere about respectfully listening to the farmers, as you say in your letter, the government must not indulge in misinformation about the previous meetings. The campaign launched by the entire state machinery to defame and malign the farmers’ movement must stop forthwith,” said the letter, read by leader of Swaraj India and Jai Kisan Andolan Yogendra Yadav, at a joint press conference.
The unions warned that if the next round of talks also end in a stalemate, they will hold a massive tractor trolley march on December 30. The groups urged farm activists from Punjab, Haryana and other states to reach Singhu border and then march to Tikri and then to Shahjahanpur on the KMP expressway. They urged Delhi residents to celebrate the New Year at protest sites on January 1. BKU Ekta Dakonda general secretary Jagmohan Singh said the government must end the blame game and BKU Rajewal president Balbir Singh Rajewal said “Now, we have sent our agenda clearly mentioning the four points on which we want to talk.”
This is the third letter written by the unions in response to as many from the Centre. They had written on December 16, stating unanimity among the group of 40 on whatever they conveyed to the government while rejecting its amendment proposals, and then another one on December 23 that added the “higher MSP” clause more specifically.
Referring to the ministry’s previous letters, unions said they have consistently demanded the “the repeal of the three Central Farm Acts, whereas the government has distorted” their position as if they were asking for amendments to these Acts.
The letter said since the government is willing to hold a meeting on “date, time and issues” of protesting unions’ choice, they now make the proposal for talks on behalf of their umbrella body, Samyukt Kisan Morch, after due consultation with all organisations.
“This is to reiterate that farmers’ organisations are and have always been open to a sincere dialogue,” said the letter. The unions also gave a call to farmers to beat utensils in protest while the Prime Minister Narendra Modi would be delivering his monthly radio address ‘Mann Ki Baat’ on Sunday.