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Opinion

Farm groups raise lawsuits as talks begin

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Punjab farmer representatives protesting against a set of laws enacted to liberalize the agricultural sector held talks on Friday with Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Railways, Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Piyush Goyal, but the seven-hour negotiations duration did not work. in any advance before a planned march to the national capital on November 26 by thousands of growers.

Food Bowl Punjab is at the center of the agitation by farmers against three laws enacted on September 24 that open up agricultural markets in the country and bring radical reforms to the agricultural sector, which supports nearly half the population.

Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey on November 10 invited the leaders of at least 30 farmers’ organizations, including members of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKCC), an umbrella platform that is spearheading the protests, to dialogue with the two ministers, in an attempt to end a politically defiant farmers uprising.

People familiar with the events said that, at the meeting held in Vigyan Bhawan, the participating agricultural leaders demanded the total repeal of the three laws and the repeal of the reforms; legislation that guarantees minimum support prices (MSP); the resumption of freight train services in Punjab; the pending electricity bill (amendment) of 2020 is sent to a select committee; and the repeal of an ordinance on air pollution for the national capital that aims to end the fires of agricultural stubble.

A government statement at the end of the talks indicated that “various issues related to farmers’ welfare were extensively discussed and the talks were conducted in a cordial atmosphere and both parties agreed to continue further discussions.”

AIKCC said Friday’s talks were not “conclusive” and that the government did not offer “concrete guarantees”, but that the talks could continue in the future. “There was no agreement on any issue. We make it clear that we want all three laws to be repealed. We told them that farmers don’t want these laws because they are meant to benefit businesses and not farmers, ”said Darshan Pal from Krantikari Kisan Union, a participant. Pal’s organization is a component of AIKSCC.

Together, the three laws that farmers are protesting allow agribusinesses to freely trade agricultural products without restrictions, allow private traders to store large quantities of essential commodities for future sales, and establish new rules for contract farming.

Farmers say the reforms will make them vulnerable to exploitation by large corporations, erode their bargaining power, and weaken the government’s MSP system, which offers growers government-guaranteed prices, mainly for wheat and wheat. rice.

The three pieces of legislation are the Agricultural Products Trade and Trade (Promotion and Facilitation) Act of 2020, the Price Guarantee Agreement for Farmers (Empowerment and Protection), the Agricultural Services Act of 2020 and the Essential Products Act (Amendment ) of 2020, approved by Parliament. in September.

The delegation sought legislation that would guarantee MSP and procurement, which refers to the government’s purchase of agricultural products at guaranteed prices determined by the federal government.

“The government did everything possible to address a key fear of the farmer delegation that the MSP system will weaken. The assumption that the MSP could withdraw is simply not correct, ”said an official from the Ministry of Agriculture, requesting anonymity. There were two rounds of discussion on this topic.

The government presented farmers with procurement data, showing that rice support prices under the Modi government had increased by 43% between 2013-14 and 2020-21, and the quantity of food grains purchased had increased by 109% in the same period.

“As the government assured us that the MSP would continue, we repeatedly asked what is the problem with bringing a law that guarantees it. The ministers sidestepped this question, ”said Pal.

“We also ask the Minister of Railways Piyush Goyal to resume freight train services in Punjab and not punish the state as we have vacated stations, trains and even platforms, but the minister sought a guarantee that we will allow the movement of freight trains. passengers too, whichI did not agree, “he added.

Farmers in the state have blocked railroad tracks and road transport as part of their protests. “We have said please do not require us to give in and give in writing to allow the movement of passenger trains also as a precondition, which is basically like asking us to cancel the agitation itself,” said Avik Saha, the secretary of AIKSCC.

The delegation demanded that the government refer the 2020 Electricity (Amendment) Bill, currently awaiting Parliament’s approval, to a select committee. Farmers have opposed a key provision of the bill, which provides for a direct benefit transfer mechanism to transfer the energy subsidy directly in cash to eligible consumers, including farmers, a major recipient of subsidized energy.

Farmers also sought the repeal of an ordinance passed on October 29 to address air pollution, called the Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region and Contiguous Areas, 2020 because it “seeks to unfairly penalize the farmers for burning crop residues, “said another participant Balbir Singh from the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal faction).

“We demand that all the intellectuals detained by the government be released. There are also court cases against farmers, which should be withdrawn, ”added Pal.

Friday’s talks appear to be an attempt by the government to adapt to a precondition set by agricultural leaders that any conversation must take place in the presence of Union ministers.

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