The Union government will hold the sixth round of talks with protesting farmers’ unions on Wednesday, a fresh attempt to resolve a politically challenging strike by farmers who have encircled the Capital and want three recent pro-reform agricultural laws scrapped.
Agriculture secretary Sanjay Agrawal had sent out a letter to farm leaders on Monday, responding to an e-mail by the farm unions on December 26 in which they had agreed to restart negotiations after rejecting the government’s appeal to resume the dialogue process several times.
In his letter, the farm secretary invited 40 leaders who represent the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a platform of over 400 farm organisations involved in the month-long agitation over a set of reforms they say will hurt their livelihoods.
The agriculture ministry’s invite, a copy of which HT has seen, had said the talks would be led by Union ministers. Three Union ministers — Narendra Singh Tomar, Piyush Goyal and Som Parkash — are likely to represent the government side, an official said.
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The farm ministry letter said officials would discuss issues related to farmers in the three laws, signalling the government’s broad strategy to find a solution by addressing points in the legislation that farmers may have objections to.
In their December 26 email to the farm ministry, the farmers, however, stuck to their demand that talks must be geared towards a repeal of the laws. The farmers spelt out issues on which they want discussions.
In their email, they said the first issue they wanted discussions on were the “modalities (that are) to be adopted for the repeal of the three Central Farm Acts”.
The laws essentially change the way India’s farmers do business by creating free markets, as opposed to a network of decades-old, government marketplaces, allowing traders to stockpile essential commodities for future sales and laying down a national framework for contract farming.
Together, the laws will allow big corporations and global supermarket chains to buy directly from farmers, bypassing decades-old regulations.
Farmers say the reforms would make them vulnerable to exploitation by big corporations and erode the government’s procurement system, whereby the government buys staples, such as wheat and rice, at guaranteed rates, known as minimum support prices (MSP).
Second, the unions want “mechanisms to be adopted to make remunerative MSP recommended by the National Farmers’ Commission into a legally guaranteed entitlement for all farmers and all agricultural commodities.”
These top two demands are the trickiest and are likely to be a test of the fate of negotiations.
Although the government has made desperate attempts to restart negotiations with the unions, it is not prepared to scrap its reformist agenda.
Instead, the government has proposed a set of concessions and amendments. These include greater oversight of proposed free markets and a written assurance on continuing the mechanism of MSP.
The farmers also want amendments in an ordinance to completely exclude farmers from any penalties for crop-residue burning, a major cause of pollution, they stated in their letter.