The government on Monday wrote to leaders of 40 farmer groups, expressing its willingness to discuss in detail the issues raised by them concerning the contentious new farm laws, with a ‘pure intent’ and an ‘open mind,’ but sought to delay the talks by a day to Wednesday.
While farmers had mooted a four-point specific agenda for the meeting, including “modalities for the repeal” of the three laws and mechanisms to make “remunerative MSP a legally guaranteed entitlement”, agriculture secretary Sanjay Agarwal’s letter referred to the two demands in more generic terms as “issues related to the three farm laws” and “system of procurement at MSP”.
Yet the government’s letter reflected a more accommodative stance than earlier. The talks would be “in the context of farmers’ explanations” of the issues, Agarwal wrote.
Farmer unions said they would respond to the government’s offer but did not hide their disappointment with the government’s “vague and unspecific language”, which, according to them, “indicated its unwillingness to discuss the full agenda items proposed by the farmers”. “Letter of GoI indicates that it is being clever with words…this exposes double-speak of the government,” said All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a constituent of Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body that organised the month-long protest by tens of thousands of farmers at the national capital borders, said in a statement.
Agarwal also informed the farmer leaders that the government is also ready to discuss issues related to the “Commission for the Air Quality Management in NCR and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020” and the draft “Electricity Amendment Bill, 2020”.
The farmer unions have demanded farmers be kept outside the recently promulgated Ordinance on air pollution, under which up to Rs 1 crore penalty and 5-year imprisonment is proposed for stubble burning. The other demand of the farmers is to continue the current system of free electricity for agriculture as provided by some states, rather than the transfer of subsidy through DBT as proposed in the draft Electricity Amendment Bill.
The farmer unions under the banner of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (United Farmers’ Front) on Saturday had proposed to hold the next round of talks on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday asserted that the new pieces of legislation would unshackle Indian agriculture and enable ‘Brand India’ to establish itself in the global agricultural markets. He also slammed the Opposition for spreading “lies and myths,” while the new laws would only give more alternatives for the farmers to sell their produce.
More than a lakh farmers have been protesting at the national capital borders for over a month demanding repeal of three farm laws. They fear mandis run by Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs) will be closed and MSP system will be abolished in the long run. Modi and other senior ministers had assured a number of times that they are prepared to give written assurance on continuation of both systems.