11 rounds and 45 hours of talks, yet deadlock over farm laws continues
The 11 rounds of talks between farmers and the Modi government over the farm sector reforms, stretching over 45 hours, have been nothing short of a roller-coaster ride—one that began with a bang and came to an abrupt halt last week.
There have been moments of high drama and some serious negotiations but little agreement as farmers protesting on Delhi's borders since November 26 remained firm on their demand for repeal and the government stuck to its stand for anything but repeal.
The talks began on a stormy note on October 14 when representatives of 29 farmers' unions met Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agarwal to submit their demands for repeal of the laws but walked out claiming that they expected to meet Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar.
A ministerial panel with Tomar, Consumer Affairs Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Prakash, who hails from Punjab, stepped in for holding talks with the farmers on November 13.
The second round of talks saw the farmers air their concerns about the three laws—The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act and The Essential Commodities Act, 2020.
Farmers listed out repeal of the three farm laws, shelving amendments to the Electricity Act, legal guarantee for minimum support price (MSP), withdrawal of cases against protestors, and implementation of the C2+50% formula for fixing MSP as recommended by the Swaminathan Commission as their key demands.
'We conveyed to them how including wheat and paddy as food stuff in the law pertaining to farm trade would help only food processing companies and not farmers,' Kulwant Singh Sandhu, General Secretary of the Jamhuri Kisan Sabha, told DH. Suggestions by Tomar to form a smaller group for better steering of talks were shot down by the farmers, whose representation in the negotiations increased from 29 to 35 in the third round of talks on December 1 and to 40 in the fourth round of talks on December 3.
There was a glimmer of hope of a resolution on December 3, when the government offered eight-point amendments to the laws which were turned down by farmers.
Irate farmers even displayed placards asking the ministers to respond in 'Yes or No' to their demand for the repeal of the laws and made it a point to get their own food from community kitchens.
'There were instances when we simply turned our backs to the ministers for a couple of hours,' Sandhu said adding that the farmers presented logical arguments before the ministers.
Besides Sandhu, prominent farmer leaders Darshan Pal, Balbir Singh Rajewal and Jagjit Singh Dallewal did most of the talking with Hannan Mollah, Shiv Kumar Kakkajji pitching in occasionally.
Home Minister Amit Shah stepped in for informal talks on December 8 after which the Centre sent the written proposal to the farmers which made it clear that there would be no repeal of the laws.
The Supreme Court stepped in and stayed the implementation of the three laws on January 12 and set up a committee to examine concerns about the laws. In the subsequent round of talks, the government offered to suspend the laws for up to 18 months and continue negotiations in the tenth round of talks on January 20.
The offer was turned down by the farmers who joined for the 11th round on January 22—a meeting that saw Tomar reiterate the offer to suspend the laws for 18 months and walk off, signalling a continuation of the deadlock.