New Delhi: Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Friday said the government is hopeful of a "positive outcome" at its next meeting with farmers' unions on January 4 but refrained from predicting whether the seventh round of talks will be the last one, saying he is not an astrologer.
Speaking to PTI, the minister said that the last meeting held on December 30, 2020, happened in a cordial atmosphere and there is a possibility of positive results in the interest of farmers and of the country's farm sector at the next meeting.
On farmer unions sticking to their demand for the repeal of three farm laws and rejecting the government's proposal to suggest alternatives, Tomar said: "We will see." Asked whether he expects the January 4t meeting to be the last one, the minister said: "I cannot say for sure now. I am not an astrologer. I am hopeful that whatever decision would be arrived at (in the meeting) will be in the interest of the country and of the farmers. (Ekdam to abhi kuch kah nahi sakta. Bavishyavakta to main hoon nahi. Lekin mujhe asha hai ki jo bhi faisla hoga, desh ke aur kisan ke hit mein hoga).
Six rounds of talks between the government and nearly 40 protesting unions have so far failed to end the agitation on various Delhi borders for over a month by thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh.
Some common ground was reached in the last meeting on Wednesday on two demands -- decriminalisation of stubble burning and continuation of power subsidies -- but no breakthrough has been reached so far on the two main demands of the protesting farmers -- repeal of the three farm laws and legal guarantee of MSP procurement system.
Enacted in September 2020, the government has presented these laws as major farm reforms and aimed at increasing farmers' income, but protesting farmers have raised concerns that these legislations would weaken the MSP and mandi systems and leave them at the mercy of big corporates.
The government has maintained these apprehensions are misplaced and has ruled out repealing the laws.
While several opposition parties and people from other walks of life have come out in support of the farmers, some farmer groups have also met Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar over the last few weeks to extend their support for the three laws.
Protesting farmer unions have, however, upped the ante ahead of the meeting by threatening to intensify their agitation if the government does not agree to their main demands for the repeal of the laws and a legal guarantee to MSP.
In a statement, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) said, "Farmers have one demand, that is, repeal of three laws. ...Acceptance of two minor issues is a cover of rigidness on repeal." Separately, protesting union leaders said at the Singhu border that only five per cent of the issues raised by them have so far been discussed in meetings with the government.
They warned that if the January 4 meeting fails to end the deadlock, they will announce dates for shutting all malls, petrol pumps in Haryana.
Farmers protesting at Shahjahanpur on the Haryana-Rajasthan border will also move towards the national capital, Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav said.
Another leader Yudhveer Singh said that a tractor march will be held on January 6 if no concrete decision is taken in the next round of talks.