Dilli Chalo | Government offers eight amendments to agriculture reform laws, farmers want full repeal

Fourth round of talks between Centre and farmer leaders end inconclusively after seven hours of discussion.

December 03, 2020 10:45 pm | Updated December 04, 2020 09:18 am IST - NEW DELHI

Members of the Bharatiya Kisan Union block a highway at the Ghazipur border in New Delhi on December 3, 2020 during their protest against the new farm laws.

Members of the Bharatiya Kisan Union block a highway at the Ghazipur border in New Delhi on December 3, 2020 during their protest against the new farm laws.

After more than seven hours of discussion, the fourth round of talks between the Centre and farmer leaders ended inconclusively on December 3. Although Central Ministers offered to consider eight amendments to the contentious farm reform laws , and offered assurances that minimum support prices (MSP) for farm produce would continue, farmer leaders continued to stand firm on their demand that all three laws be completely repealed.

The dialogue is scheduled to resume on December 5, but the continuing deadlock meant that farmers would not even eat the lunch and tea provided by the government at Vigyan Bhavan, preferring to bring in their own food from a gurudwara.

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Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, have completely or partially sealed multiple entry points on Delhi’s borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh for the eighth straight day, camping out along the highways leading to the city with long lines of tractors. Their demands are to scrap the three laws, which they fear will end the MSP regime, and to create a new law guaranteeing MSPs. They also want the government to stop slapping large fines on farmers for burning stubble, and to withdraw the Electricity Bill, 2020 which could affect power subsidies for farmers.

“The government has no ego. It is discussing all the issues with farmers with an open mind,” Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told journalists after the meeting ended.

He listed several areas of concern where the government is willing to consider changes to the laws. These include placing safeguards to ensure that land alienation is not possible via contract farming; strengthening the State-run mandi system and possibly equalising taxes in these markets and private markets; allowing grievance redressal in civil courts rather than just in the offices of Sub-Divisional Magistrates; and ensuring registration of private traders beyond the requirement of a PAN card. Issues related to stubble burning and power subsidies were also discussed.

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“With regard to MSP, we gave an assurance that it was there, is there and will continue to be there,” said Mr. Tomar, appealing to farmers to end their protest. Some farmer leaders said a written statement that MSP will continue is also on the table, but not a legal guarantee.

Farmer groups say their problems with the laws are more fundamental and cannot be resolved with a few changes. “When a law goes wrong in its objectives, then the provisions will also be wrong. The list of all the problems is so long that it is not worth keeping the law. A bad law will only become worse,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, the only woman on the 40-member farmers delegation, who represents the Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch.

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“The talks have made a little progress, especially on the issue of MSP. But the government wants to talk about amendments, while the farmers want a full rollback,” said Rakesh Tikait, who heads his own faction of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, mostly in western Uttar Pradesh, that joined hands with the Punjab unions on Wednesday evening.

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The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the united alliance of farmers groups coordinating the protests, will hold a strategy meeting at 11 a.m. on Friday at the Singhu border crossing, in order to consider their next options in this stalemate.

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