Farm union leaders will consider a proposal from the Central government to suspend the implementation of three contentious farm laws for the next one and a half years while a committee is formed to look into their demands.
Union leaders said the Centre had also offered to submit an affidavit to the Supreme Court to this effect. They will discuss the proposal internally on Thursday, and return with their response at the next round of discussions on Friday.
The proposal was made during the tenth round of talks on Wednesday, and is the first serious sign of movement in the negotiations since tens of thousands of farmers began their protest on the borders of Delhi almost two months ago. Their major demands have been a repeal of the three laws on agricultural marketing, and a new legal guarantee to ensure that farm produce is sold at minimum support prices.
The government was keen to reach a final decision in this meeting, which took place on the day of Gurpurab, and hence said it was ready to keep the three farm laws suspended for one to one and a half years, during which a solution can be reached through mutual dialogue, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told journalists after the meeting. “If the agitation is ended, and the farmers can go home, then that will be a victory for Indian democracy, not for any individual,” he added.
“In order to increase the farmer unions’ belief and trust in the fact that they are very serious and sincere about the suspension idea, the government said it is willing to do this through an undertaking in the Supreme Court,” said Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch leader Kavitha Kuruganti, who was one of the farmers’ delegation members. She added that the proposed committee would give recommendations on the future of these three farm laws, whether they should be amended or repealed. It is not clear whether the committee would also discuss MSP-related issues.
“We wanted a repeal of the three laws. The unions will discuss this new proposal at a joint meeting of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha tomorrow [Thursday] afternoon and then take a decision,” said Krantikari Kisan Union leader Darshan Pal. The Punjab unions will hold their own meeting to decide their stance on Thursday morning before the SKM meeting.
When the negotiations began on Wednesday, the unions raised the issue of National Intelligence Agency issuing notices to supporters of the agitation, as well as FIRs filed against protesting farmers in Haryana. “On the one hand, the government is talking about finding solutions, but on the other hand, the NIA and State police are harassing and pressuring the protesters and those providing moral support,” said Rakesh Tikait, who heads one faction of the Bharatiya Kisan Union. Mr. Tomar promised to take up the issue with the Home Ministry, added Mr. Tikait.
Before the talks began, the unions welcomed the Supreme Court’s refusal to stop the proposed tractor parade on Republic Day, leaving it to the Delhi police to decide on whether to grant permission.
“This is a win for the farmers,” said Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh spokesperson Abhimanyu Kohar. “In this decision, by asking the Delhi police to withdraw [their application for an injunction against the parade], I think that in one way, the Supreme Court is saying that this is the fundamental and constitutional right of the farmers to stage a peaceful protest, and it is now up to the government to decide.”
Even as the Supreme Court hearing was going on, a small group of union leaders spent several hours meeting with senior officials from the Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana police, going over their proposal to conduct a tractor parade on the capital’s Outer Ring Road on Republic Day. The police urged the unions to conduct their parade on the expressway surrounding Delhi rather than entering the city, but the meeting ended inconclusively.