New Delhi: Three union ministers met a 41-member representative group of thousands of farmers protesting against three farm laws on the borders of the national capital for the sixth round of negotiations on Wednesday to break the over one-month-long deadlock on the contentious issue.
The government has ruled out any possibility of repealing the farm laws, and instead proposed to set up a committee to examine the controversial agri legislations. However, farmer leaders have insisted they are prepared to continue their agitation till the government agrees to their demands, including repeal of the laws.
The three union ministers -- Narendra Singh Tomar, Som Prakash, and Piyush Goyal -- met the farmers' union representatives, hoping to reach a decisive conclusion that would see the peasants return from Delhi borders to their respective homes to celebrate the New Year.
However, farmers' leaders are staunch in their demands, which includes the scrapping of all three farm laws and the demand for a law that guarantees the Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) for farm produce.
Farmers demand guarantee on MSPs
While the government has ruled out repealing the recent pro-reform laws, there has been considerable discussion on the possibility of guaranteeing the MSPs, reports stated, citing sources in the farmers' unions.
However, the government is reluctant to do so, since it feels fixing the MSPs for even private traders might bring "chaos to the markets". Currently, traders are allowed buy farm produce below the state-set prices.
Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar reportedly explained that private parties might not agree to buy farm produce at the fixed MSP rates if doing so does not bring them profits.
Some union leaders, however, said that farmers in some parts of the country are being forced to sell crops including paddy below the Minimum Support Price as market rates have fallen and asserted that the agitation will continue till the government agrees to their demands.
"After new farm laws were implemented in Uttar Pradesh, prices of crops have fallen by 50 per cent. Crops are being bought at below MSP. Paddy is being sold at Rs 800 per quintal. We will raise these issues in the meeting," Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait told reporters before entering the meeting venue.
"We will not leave Delhi till our demands are met. We will celebrate New year at borders" he said.
However, the discussions are still on. Previously, Tomar had also said he was hopeful that a solution would emerge before the year 2020 ends.
After around two hours of discussions, the union ministers joined farm leaders to share 'langar' food arranged by protesting farmers.
The 'langar' (community kitchen) food arrived in a van at the meeting venue, Vigyan Bhawan just before the two sides took a break for tea and snacks.
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Food and Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash joined the farmer leaders to share their langar food during the break.
Farmer leaders said that the talks were continuing and they were going 'agenda wise'.
While talks resumed after the break, some leaders said not much headway was made in the first session.
Many feel that the farmers' protests will continue to remain as a 'thaw' on the Centre's side as the NDA government is not known for rollbacks or for repealing laws that it has passed.
It is known for decisive actions and swift implementation of policy decisions. In its second term, it now stares at a major demand from protesting farmers at Delhi's border to repeal the three agri laws.
Next meet on January 4
The meeting between three union ministers and representatives of 41 farmer groups began at around 2.30 pm at Vigyan Bhawan.
The sixth round of talks between the two sides is being held after a huge gap. The fifth round of talks was held on December 5.
The next meeting will be held on January 4, sources said.
The sixth round of talks was originally scheduled for December 9 but it was called off after an informal meeting of Home Minister Shah with some union leaders failed to reach any breakthrough.
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, are protesting at various borders of the national capital for more than a month against these three new laws.
The government has presented these laws as major agriculture reforms aimed at helping farmers and increasing their income, but the protesting unions fear that the new legislations have left them at the mercy of big corporates by weakening the MSP and mandi systems.
(With inputs from agencies)