The eighth round of talks between the Centre and farm unions, which saw raised voices and increased tensions, ended without any resolution to the ongoing stalemate over the repeal of three farm reform laws.
The ninth round of talks will be held on January 15, after the Supreme Court’s next hearing on the farmers protest issue, which is likely to be held on January 11.
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According to union leaders, the Centre told them that the issue is best resolved by the Supreme Court, asking the farmers to appear at the next hearing and suggesting that it would request daily hearings for speedy resolution of the case. Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar would not confirm this. However, he emphasised that the government is committed to following the apex court's direction.
"In our democracy, it is Parliament which makes the laws. But the Supreme Court has every right to examine it," he told journalists after the meeting. "Whatever decision the court gives, the government is committed to following it," he added.
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Farmer leaders said that policy issues should not be decided by the court, which is only examining the constitutional validity of the laws.
"It's a sad day for democracy when an elected government in the middle of talks takes resort in the Supreme Court and says that we should fall back on the Court," said Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch leader Kavitha Kuruganti. “This is a matter of the livelihoods of millions of farmers. It is a policy decision which should be taken in consultation with farmers.”
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"No matter what the decision of the court is, if it is against farmers, we will not accept it. We will go to jail if needed. These laws are a death knell for farmers," said Hannan Mollah of the All India Kisan Sabha.
The meeting got off to a tense start, with the Centre saying it cannot and will not repeal the three laws, as it needs to look at the interests of the whole country, including other farmers groups which support the laws. Mr. Tomar blamed the unions for their failure to come up with any alternative proposal apart from repeal.
At this point, Balbir Singh Rajewal who heads his own faction of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, raised his voice and shouted, accusing the government of being adamant. He said that the Central Government did not have a right to interfere in agricultural activity, indicating that there are previous Supreme Court judgements establishing this. Union leaders vowed that they would not return home until the laws were repealed, repeating slogans such as, "Ya jitenge, ya marenge" (Win or Die), and thumping their desks in unity.
The farmers would not even take the usual lunch or tea break “under protest”, refusing to budge from the conference room while the government delegation left for an hour-long break.
"I do not have any hope for the next meeting. The government is only repeating the same thing, they are not listening to us at all. But farmers will not be the first to break off, we will not be responsible for the breakdown of talks. That is why we will come back on January 15," said Gurnam Singh Chadhuni, who heads a Haryana faction of the BKU. “We will all come into Delhi with our tractors on Republic Day. Perhaps they will listen to us then.”
Later in the evening, Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar dismissed the farmers’ insistence on repeal of the three farm laws, saying it was only for media consumption. "If this was the case, then the meetings would have stopped long back and new dates wouldn't have been announced...perhaps this is what they (farmers' union) have decided to say for media's consumption," he told journalists after a meeting with Home Minister Amit Shah at his North Block office. He said the three laws were not the only issues on the table and was hopeful that a solution is reached soon.