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Opinion

Talks to resume, but with some horsemen: farmers unions

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The Union government and agricultural unions protesting a set of farm laws that the latter claims will damage their livelihoods are likely to restart negotiations that ran aground last week, and both Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar as a major platform for Agricultural unions signaled their willingness to resume talks on Monday.

Tomar told reporters in Delhi that the government was making efforts to restart negotiations that failed after five rounds last week. “When a date is set, we will let you know,” he said.

Hours later, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Committee (AIKSCC), a joint platform of protesting farmers camped outside of Delhi, said it was ready for talks again but with certain conditions.

Farming groups, mostly from Punjab, who have been pushing for the three laws to be completely repealed, said they needed three main guarantees before returning to the negotiating table.

One, the talks cannot be about old proposals that farm unions have rejected. Two, the government should develop a new agenda. Three, discussions should focus on repeal of farm laws.

The cyclists seem to put the responsibility on the government to come up with an agenda acceptable to farmers. To be sure, the government has reiterated that farm laws will benefit farmers. For their part, the peasants have stood firm in their demand to repeal the three laws, and on Monday they observed a hunger strike across the country, blocking roads and taking to the streets in protest.

“Government [is] repeatedly repeating the old rejected logic. Farmers are ready for talks, but the three farm laws and the 2020 electricity amendment bill must be withdrawn, ”said Avik Saha, secretary of the AIKSCC. Kavitha Kuruganti, another AIKSCC leader, said the farmers were not averse to speaking up again. “So if the government sends the invitation, the agenda set there will be the key to any future negotiations.”

Earlier in the day, Tomar met with a delegation of farmers from five states who pledged their support for the laws and said a meeting will “definitely happen”.

“Our efforts to restart the talks are underway. There will be conversations. We are always open to discussions to solve farmers’ problems, ”Tomar said.

“The government has been talking to agricultural leaders on the phone informally. When things work out, a formal invitation with a revised agenda is likely to be sent out again, “a person familiar with the development told HT, requesting anonymity.

A massive farmer protest was sparked by three laws pushed by the government in September that allow agribusinesses to trade with minimal regulation, allow traders to store large quantities of food products for economies of scale, and establish new contract farming rules. . Farmers say the new rules favor large corporations with which they will lose business and gradually end the minimum price system set by the state. The protesters decided to suspend negotiations on December 8, after a meeting with Interior Minister Amit Shah, citing a deadlock.

On December 9, the government sent a written proposal to amend some provisions of the laws for greater oversight of deregulated markets, avoiding penalties for farmers for burning stubble, which causes pollution, and promising to continue providing subsidized energy to farmers. farmers instead of direct cash transfers, but the agricultural union say they will not suspend their agitation until the laws are fully repealed.

The willingness expressed by both sides to explore ways to meet again comes amid hectic behind-the-scenes efforts to prepare a mutually acceptable agenda, the aforementioned official said.

Why are thousands of farmers sitting in the cold? Just to talk to the government. The government has ruled out repealing the laws. But we can still speak to see the light at the end of the tunnel, ”Saha said.

“The withdrawal of three laws is necessary but not sufficient,” said Yogendra Yadav, a senior leader of the agitation, implying that farmers also want a legal guarantee of support prices.

Analysts say that economic reforms in massive sectors, such as labor and agriculture, will always be a challenge because, unlike financial reforms, these sectors are all about livelihoods.

“The government could suggest new institutions like a regulator for contract farming to win the trust of farmers,” said Soumya Kanti Ghosh, senior group economic adviser at the State Bank of India, the country’s largest lender.

The events occurred on a day when agricultural groups from several states clashed with the police and reiterated their opposition to the laws.

Meanwhile, agricultural organizations from five states representing the All India Kisan Coordinating Committee met in Tomar for more than two hours.

This is the fourth group of farmers to meet with the agriculture minister to show their support for the reforms, which has come as a shot at the arm of a government fighting mass agitation against its movement to liberalize the agricultural sector.

Tomar told agricultural organizations that “the government’s intention and policy are clear and farmers are already benefiting from pro-farmer reforms that will help increase farmers’ incomes.”

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