Government agrees to review key farmer demands
A round of decisive talks between the Union government and farmers protesting three farm laws took a step forward on Thursday after being repeatedly stalled, with the government agreeing to review the recently enacted legislation and “table amendments” if necessary to address the demands of agricultural unions. However, the farmers maintained their position that the government should repeal all three laws.
Thursday’s negotiations were the fourth round of meetings between three Union ministers and farmers’ representatives, as protests by thousands of farmers on the Delhi borders continued to simmer for the seventh day in a row.
Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar, Railways, Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Piyush Goyal, and State Minister for Commerce Som Prakash, a legislator from Punjab, led the government side, while representatives from some of the largest farmers unions in the country, mainly from Punjab, spoke for the farmers.
“The government has no ego problems. The talks were conducted with an open heart. Farmer leaders raised various issues and gave us feedback on them. We have assured them that each of the points raised by them will be reviewed by the government and we will meet again on December 5, “Tomar said after the discussions.
While farmers want the three farm laws passed by Parliament in September repealed, the government has relied on its new reform agenda to increase farm incomes and stimulate investment in the sector.
Recent laws allow companies to freely trade agricultural products outside of the so-called government-controlled mandi system, allow private traders to store large quantities of commodities for future sales, and establish new rules for contract farming.
Farmers fear that the reforms could pave the way for the government to stop buying basic products at minimum support prices (MSP) set by the federal government, erode their bargaining power and leave them at the mercy of private buyers.
The government expanded the group of farmer representatives from 35 to 40 for Thursday’s meeting in response to farmers’ demand. The farmers’ side included for the first time a women’s representative, Kavitha Kuruganti from the Forum for the Rights of Women Farmers.
“The Minister of Agriculture said that the government can bring amendments. We note that if a law fails in its very purpose, then its various provisions are doomed to fail. That is what happened here. That farmers have been forced to fend for themselves at their market interfaces, ”Kuruganti said.
In the last meeting on December 1, which was inconclusive, the agriculture minister suggested that agricultural leaders identify specific issues related to the land reform laws.
The farmers’ delegation spoke at length about what they saw as threats to their interests due to the reforms. These included the danger of collapse of the reported government-controlled markets due to a proposal to establish free markets in competition with traditional ones that offer farmers assured prices for commodities.
A new contract farming law could jeopardize farmers’ land ownership rights, farmers said. They also demanded the government to revoke all sanctions on farmers for burning crop residues under a new anti-pollution ordinance enacted in October. The farmers also called for a revision of a bill that provides for direct cash payments to farmers to offset the costs of electricity for agriculture instead of the existing practice of providing subsidized electricity supply.
“We will revisit each of these provisions. We will see how we can achieve parity between the existing Agricultural Products Market Committees (regulated markets) and free markets. We can bring new measures to strengthen APMC markets, ”said Tomar.
The agriculture minister also said the government would review the impact of a pending power supply amendment bill in Parliament on farmers and would review a recent law, which provides for the settlement of disputes between farmers and traders at the magistrate level. . Farmers have demanded that they be free to go to civil courts to resolve such disputes.
The farmers also sought a legal guarantee for the MSPs set by the federal government so that no private buyer could buy important agricultural products below the threshold prices set by the state. The government assured farmers that the MSP system, under which it buys commodities at profitable prices, will continue, but did not commit to a law prohibiting the sale of important agricultural products below state-set support prices. , as farmers seek.
The farmers concluded by saying that the problem is not about “any particular clause” but about the “direction in which the government is pushing agriculture in India,” said Avik Saha, secretary of the Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee for all of India (AIKCC). .
Jagmohan Singh, an agricultural leader who participated in the talks, said farmers unanimously demanded the repeal of the “three black laws”. “All our objections and fears will disappear if the three laws are withdrawn.”