The Centre is quite willing to hold talks with farmers’ groups if they are prepared move away from the highway and shift to the designated protest site in Burari, Home Minister Amit Shah said late on Saturday.
The farmers’ groups which are demanding a repeal of three agricultural reform laws said they would respond after internal consultations on Sunday morning.
Mr. Shah’s statement is the highest official response to the protesters so far, and the first to offer negotiations before the scheduled talks with Punjab unions on December 3. It came after protesters decided to remain parked at the Haryana-Delhi border crossings at Singhu and Tikri , demanding a more visible protest location rather than being shunted off to Burari, in the northwestern corner of the city.
Mr. Shah said that the Centre had already offered to talk to the farmers on December 3, but some unions had demanded that the meeting should be held earlier. “I want to assure that Government of India will be ready to talk to you the very next day after you [farmers] shift to Burari ground,” he said.
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He noted that farmers from Punjab, Haryana and other parts of the country had been coming to the Delhi borders and have gathered on two major highways since Friday. “Farmers have to suffer a lot because of the cold weather and other commuters are also facing trouble. So, I want to appeal to my farmer brothers that the government has made adequate arrangements for you at Burari where you can continue the protest,” he said, in the official statement. “Food, toilets and medical facilities are available so that the farmers are not inconvenienced. They can protest in a democratic and peaceful manner with the permission of the Delhi Police,” he added.
Farmers groups say there is need for further internal consultation. “There will be a meeting of the Punjab farm unions at 8 a.m., and then the five-member coordination committee [of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha] will meet,” said K.V. Biju, a leader of the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, one of the major farmers alliances participating in the protest. “But we have already gone for two discussions, and nothing happened. So we will see,” he said.
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Earlier in the afternoon, the SKM had jointly decided not to shift to Burari on Saturday. “What the Government of India is keen on doing is to defend what it has already done. This is apparent from the fact that the government goes on saying that it will ‘explain’ the benefits to the farmers, without presenting any concrete agenda even once that they are fully ready to go back on what has been enacted,” said the farmers’ statement.
Food Secretary Sudhanshu Pandey, who is acting as Agriculture Secretary until the month-end, told The Hindu on Saturday evening that the ball was now in the farmers’ court. “The government has now made it clear that we are open for talks. Where should these talks happen? Can they happen on the highway?” he said. “Somebody has to show the intent that yes, they are also prepared to talk. They are agitating but they have not said that we want to talk to the government. So both sides have to meet each other, and the government has already said, we are prepared to meet.”
He added that the Ministry has already received some responses from unions for the December 3 invitation to meet in Vigyan Bhavan, and expects to hear from more groups by Monday, when they will assess the total response.