Farmer protests: Ninth round of talks ends, next meet on 19 Jan; govt urges unions to form informal grouping

Meanwhile, the Congress party shored up its attack against the Centre over the issue, with Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi leading protests in New Delhi

The ninth round  of talks between the Centre and protesting farmers also ended inconclusively, with another round scheduled to be held on 19 January.

Protesting farmer unions stuck to their demand for a complete repeal of the three contentious farm laws at their ninth round of talks with three central ministers, but the government asked them to be more flexible in their approach and expressed willingness for necessary amendments.

Meanwhile, the Congress party shored up its attack against the Centre over the issue, with Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi leading protests in New Delhi, while state units of the parties also held demonstrations at various places.

Farmers, Centre to meet again on 19 Jan

Farmer leader Joginder Singh Ugrahan said told reporters after the meeting that the unions urged the government to repeal the three laws, but the Centre was unwilling to do so. "We decided to meet again on 19 January  at 12 pm," he said.

Ugrahan said the union leaders also raised the issue of NIA raids on transporters in Punjab who are supporting farmers' protests and were providing logistic support for the agitation.

At the meeting that lasted for nearly five hours, including a lunch break, farmers unions said they are committed to continuing holding direct talks to resolve the over a month-long deadlock over three agri laws, even as a committee has been formed by the Supreme Court to resolve the deadlock.

In his opening remarks, Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar urged farmer leaders to be flexible in their approach as has been done by the government.

Besides Tomar, Minister of Railways, Commerce and Food Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash were also part of the government's delegation talking with representatives of around 40 farmer unions at the Vigyan Bhawan.

"Both the government and farmer unions have reaffirmed their commitment to continue with the direct dialogue process," All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee member Kavita Kuruganti, who is part of the meeting, said.

"In his opening remarks, Tomar ji said you keep saying that the government is adamant and making it an issue of ego, even though we have accepted several demands. Don't you think you should be flexible and not stick to one single demand of repealing the laws," said Baljit Singh Bali of Punjab Kisan Morcha.

Farmer leader Darshan Pal said there was a good discussion on all three laws. "There is a possibility of some resolution. We are positive," he added.

Another leader Rakesh Tikait said: "Government has told us that solution should be found through dialogue and not a court. Everyone is of the same views. There is a possibility of some solution."

Govt urges farmers to form informal group for talks, negotiations

Urging farmer unions to form an informal group among themselves to prepare concrete proposals to be discussed in the next meeting, Tomar said on Friday after the ninth round of talks.

"We suggested they can form an informal group of people who can understand the laws better and prepare some concrete proposals, detailing what are farmers' expectations and what clauses are problematic for them, which the government can consider with an open mind," the minister said.

Tomar also addressed questions on talks between the Centre and farmers continuing despite the Supreme Court appointing a panel for a solution of the issue. He said everyone is fully committed to the apex court and the government will also present its side before the committee panel when invited.

"Unions want to continue the dialogue with the government and we have no problem with that. The SC-appointed panel will also work for the welfare of farmers," he said.

The minister said a solution can emerge from the government-farmers talks as well as from the SC-appointed panel's deliberations.

"Our effort is to resolve the issue through dialogue and we want the protest to end at the earliest given the adverse weather conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic situation," he said.

IMF says farm bills have potential to reform agri sector

The IMF believes the farm bills passed by the Indian government have the potential to represent a significant step forward for agricultural reforms, but a social safety net is needed to protect those who might be adversely impacted during the transition to the new system, a spokesperson of the global lender said.

Gerry Rice, Director of Communications at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), said the new measures will reduce the role of the middlemen and enhance efficiency.

"We believe the farm bills do have the potential to represent a significant step forward for agricultural reforms in India," Rice said at a news conference in Washington on Thursday.

"The measures will enable farmers to directly contract with sellers, allow farmers to retain a greater share of the surplus by reducing the role of middlemen, enhance efficiency and support rural growth," he said.

"However, it is crucial that the social safety net adequately protects those who might be adversely impacted during the transition to this new system," the spokesperson said responding to a question on the ongoing protests by farmers against the laws in India.

This can be done by ensuring that the job market accommodates those that are impacted by the reforms, he said.

And of course, the growth benefits of these reforms will depend, critically, on the effectiveness and the timing of their implementation, so need to pay attention to those issues as well with the reform," Rice said.

Congress stages protests in solidarity with farmers

The Congress party's state units staged protests in various parts of the country including Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, with its former president Rahul Gandhi leading the charge in New Delhi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not respect farmers and wants to tire out those protesting against the Centre's new agri laws, Gandhi alleged at a protest meet in Delhi.

He also said that the talks that are being held with the protesting farmer leaders are part of the government's delaying tactics. Farmers will not relent till the laws are repealed, said Rahul Gandhi at Jantar Mantar, where he along with Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra joined party MPs in their demonstration against the legislations.

"The talks are being held only to delay. PM Modi thinks he has the power and will tire the farmers out, but he is mistaken," Rahul Gandhi told reporters.

"Narendra Modi does not have basic respect for farmers. He does not even care if over 100 farmers die. He thinks he has the power and the protesting farmers will tire out after some days, but they will not relent," he said.

Rahul Gandhi said this agitation has just started and the laws will have to be repealed.

"They (the government) do not know the strength of farmers, they will not relent. PM Modi does not understand this. Had he understood this, the government would have taken back the laws today itself," he said at the Jantar Mantra where Congress MPs Ravneet Singh Bittu, Jasbir Singh Gill and some other legislators from Punjab have been staging the protest for over a month.

Asked about objections being raised over the proposed tractor rally by protesting farmers on Republic Day, he said, "If farmers want to come out and take out a tractor parade on Republic Day, what is the harm in it."

"The prime minister misunderstands, he thinks this country is run by four to five industrialists, who control him," Rahul Gandhi said, adding that the country is run by farmers, labourers and the youth.

He said if anyone "attacks" farmers, it is an attack on the country. The country's farmers have maintained the country's independence by ensuring food security and the day food security is lost, the country will lose its independence, Rahul Gandhi said.

"This is a financial issue, not a political issue. PM Modi wants to hand over everything that farmers have to his corporate friends," the Congress leader alleged. He also raised strong objections to protesting farmers being dubbed as "Khalistanis".

The agriculture minister, however, sought to make light of the Opposition leader's comments.

Speaking to PTI, Tomar said, "Rahul Gandhi's statements and actions are laughed at within his own party also."

"The Congress manifesto in 2019 itself promised these reforms and therefore Sonia and Rahul Gandhi should tell us whether they were lying at that time or are lying right now," he said.

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.

On 8 January, the eighth round of meeting had remained inconclusive as the Centre ruled out repealing the three contentious laws claiming nationwide support for the reforms. However, farmer leaders had said that they were ready to fight till death and their 'ghar waapsi' would happen only after 'law waapsi'.

In the sixth round held on December 30 last year, some common ground was reached on two demands -- decriminalisation of stubble-burning and continuation of power subsidies.

Enacted in September 2020, the government has presented these laws as major farm reforms aimed at increasing farmers' income, but the protesting farmers have raised concerns that these legislations would weaken the minimum support price (MSP) and "mandi" (wholesale market) systems and leave them at the mercy of big corporations.

The government has maintained that these apprehensions are misplaced and has ruled out a repeal of the laws.

The Supreme Court on 11 January had stayed the implementation of the three laws till further orders and appointed a four-member panel to resolve the impasse. Bhartiya Kisan Union president Bhupinder Singh Mann, however, on Thursday recused himself from the committee.

Shetkari Sanghatana (Maharashtra) president Anil Ghanwat, International Food Policy Research Institute's Pramod Kumar Joshi and agriculture economist Ashok Gulati are the other three members on the panel.

With inputs from PTI

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Farmer protests: Ninth round of talks ends, next meet on 19 Jan; govt urges unions to form informal grouping