The negotiations between Central Ministers and farm unions came to a standstill on Friday with the government saying it had no further concessions to offer beyond the proposal to suspend the three contentious agricultural reform laws for 12-18 months. The unions rejected the proposal and reiterated their demand for repeal of the laws.
No date has been fixed for another meeting.
At the end of a four-hour meeting, during which Ministers and union leaders were only in the same room for 20 minutes, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government had already presented its “best proposal”. Urging the unions to reconsider their stand, he said if they responded positively on Saturday, talks could resume.
Union leaders put up a united face during the meeting, jointly conveying their rejection of the proposal. Later, however, some leaders said they were open for further deliberations, while others took a more hardline position, vowing to intensify their agitation.
Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the borders of New Delhi for almost two months now, and thousands plan to enter the national capital for a tractor parade on Republic Day. Police officials have opposed the plan to hold the parade on the Outer Ring Road and presented an alternate proposal during discussions on Friday, which the farm unions will discuss on Saturday.
Mr. Tomar accused outside “forces” of prolonging the protest for their own motives, saying that a resolution was not possible if the sanctity of the agitation was lost. “These laws are in the interest of farmers, but out of respect for the unions and the protest, we have put forth one proposal after another to amend the laws. Now we have given them our best proposal — to suspend the laws for one to one and a half years while a committee is set up to resolve their issues,” he told journalists after the meeting.
“This is now simply an ego issue with this government. If they can suspend the laws for one and a half years, why don’t they repeal it and hold consultations and then re-enact it after one and a half years?” asked Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh leader Abhimanyu Kohar.
He refuted the Centre’s claim that it had made many concessions while the farmers have not budged from their stance. “We also want loan waivers, we want more remunerative prices, we want pensions for farmers, but we are not raising all that now. We have already made many concessions. We are asking for the bare minimum,” he said.
However, Mr. Kohar added that the union leadership may hold further discussions on the Centre’s proposal again on Saturday.
The leader of one of the 15 Punjab unions that voted against outright rejection of the Centre’s proposal on Thursday also advocated for further discussions.
“I feel we should bargain for a three-year suspension, and an ordinance on MSP. But there is no question of separate negotiation with the government. We will ultimately stand by whatever the unions decide together,” said the leader, who did not want to be named.
One of the reasons that farm unions decided to reject the government's proposal is that they received legal advice that the Central Government has no power to stay or suspend a law passed by the Parliament, according to All India Kisan Sabha leader P. Krishnaprasad. The Centre’s proposal “is a violation and encroachment over the powers of Parliament and cannot be sustained legally,” he said.
“The Minister made us wait for three and a half hours. This is an insult to farmers,” said Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee leader S.S. Pandher, referring to the fact that after a 15 minute initial meeting, the government delegation left the room and did not return till the last five minutes of the meeting.
“We informed them that we had rejected the proposal in the very beginning itself. But then the Ministers said they would discuss further, and asked us to discuss further. So we waited in the hopes that they would come back with a different proposal. Otherwise, why would we have sat there for so long?” said Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch leader Kavitha Kuruganti.