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No date set for next round of talks as farmer-government meeting ends in deadlock

Unlike the last 10 rounds of talks, the 11th round could not even reach a decision on the next date for the meeting

The government’s negotiations with protesting farm unions hit a roadblock on Friday as the farmer leaders stuck to their demands for a complete repeal of three farm laws they find pro-corporate and a legal guarantee for MSP, even as the Centre asked them to reconsider its proposal for putting the Acts on hold for 12-18 months.

Unlike the last 10 rounds of talks, the 11th round could not even reach a decision on the next date for the meeting as the government also hardened its position saying it is ready to meet again once the unions agree to discuss the suspension proposal. This followed a big climbdown made by the Centre during the last round when they offered to suspend the laws and form a joint committee to find solutions.

According to one of the union leaders, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar ended the meeting by saying that there is no deficiency in the law, but the Centre had still made a proposal respecting the farmers. However, he said that the farmers had been unable to take a decision. The Minister said that, ‘if you reach a decision, then inform us and we will discuss again,’ said the union leader.

“At the end of the meeting, the Agriculture Minister told us that this is the government’s best proposal, and that the government has nothing further to offer,” said Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch leader Kavitha Kuruganti after a meeting that lasted more than four hours, but only had Ministers and union leaders in the same room for about 20 minutes.

In a tense start to the 11th round of talks on Friday, Central Ministers expressed their unhappiness that the unions first told the media about their decision to reject the proposal to suspend the three farm laws, instead of first informing the government directly.

According to several union leaders and government sources, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar then asked the unions to reconsider their decision and discuss it again among themselves. The unions met separately, and again decided to stick to their stance. The meeting then took a lunch break.

Also read: Farmers’ protests | Unions reject government proposal to suspend laws for 18 months

During the Wednesday talks, the Centre had offered to stay the implementation of the three laws for up to 18 months, and set up a joint committee to continue dialogue with farmers on the fate of the laws.

All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) leader P. Krishnaprasad said that one of the reasons that they decided to reject the government’s proposal was that they received legal advice that the Centre had no power to stay or suspend a law passed by Parliament.

Lawyers told the AIKS that the government could ask the Supreme Court to stay the implementation of laws, or take them back to Parliament and get a repeal law enacted. Only Parliament could either amend or repeal a law. The legal advice received was that the government proposal to suspend the law for 18 months had no legal validity, he stated.

Also read: Farmers protest | SC panel to meet State govts, farm unions from Jan 21

Nevertheless, a number of Punjab unions argued that it would be better not to reject the Centre’s proposal outright during their internal meeting on Thursday. One leader said the final vote among the Punjab unions was a close 17-15 in favour of rejecting the proposal. Some leaders felt the unions should be willing to compromise in response to the government’s concession. However, others noted that any sign of compromise could be seen as a betrayal by the tens of thousands of protesters gathered at Delhi’s borders for the last two months demanding a repeal of the three laws.

Some leaders’ warning

Even among the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, which decided unanimously to reject the proposal, some leaders warned that farmers must decide at what point to end the protest, as it could not go on indefinitely.

The wider Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) meeting on Thursday night was chaired by Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav and it decided to reject the government proposal without much dissent.

Also read: Farmers’ protest | Give up stubborn stand and come for clause by clause discussion on January 19: Tomar to protesting farmer unions

However, the SKM general body then spent several tense hours discussing the clash between Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh leader Shiv Kumar Kakkaji Sharma and Haryana leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni, who heads a faction of the Bharatiya Kisan Union.

Mr. Sharma, who had previous links with the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh had accused Mr. Chaduni of taking money from a political party. The issue would now be referred to a sub-committee, said one leader.

With PTI inputs

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