Union Minister for Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State Som Prakash during a meeting with farmers representatives over the new farm laws, at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi, Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.
Union Minister for Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State Som Prakash during a meeting with farmers representatives over the new farm laws, at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi, Monday, Jan. 4, 2021.
PTI / Arun Sharma

The seventh round of talks between protesting unions and three central ministers got underway here on Monday afternoon to resolve an over-a-month-long impasse over farmers' agitation against three farm laws, but representatives of farmer groups stuck to their demand for the repeal of the Acts.

Before the commencement of the meeting, the Union Ministers, along with government officials and the representatives of the farmers' unions observed a two-minute silence for the farmers who passed away in the course of the ongoing protests.

As the two sides took a lunch break after about one hour of talks, sources said the government also remained firm on not repealing the laws and is believed to have suggested a panel to take the matter forward.

The stand-off also continued on farmers' another key demand for a legal guarantee to Minimum Support Price (MSP) procurement system.

The representatives of protesting farmers had their own food, arranged from langar (community kitchen), as they have been doing for the last few times. However, unlike the last round of talks on December 30, the ministers did not join the union leaders for the langar food and were seen having their own discussion separately during the break.

Sources said the government listed various benefits from the three laws, enacted a few months ago, but farmers kept insisting that the legislation must be withdrawn to address their apprehensions that the new Acts would weaken the MSP and mandi systems and leave them at the mercy of big corporates.

Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Railways, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash, who is an MP from Punjab, are holding the talks with the representatives of 41 farmer unions at the Vigyan Bhawan.

The meeting began with paying respects to the farmers who lost their lives during the ongoing protest, sources said.

On December 30, the sixth round of talks was held between the government and the farmer unions, where some common ground was reached on two demands -- decriminalisation of stubble-burning and continuation of power subsidies.

However, no breakthrough could be reached on the two main demands of the protesting farmers -- a repeal of the three recent farm laws and a legal guarantee to the MSP procurement system.

On Sunday, Tomar met Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and discussed the government strategy to resolve the current crisis at the earliest, sources said.

Tomar discussed with Singh all possible options to find a "middle path" to resolve the crisis, they added.

Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, are protesting at various Delhi borders for over a month against the three laws. They have stayed put despite heavy rains and waterlogging at protest sites over the last couple of days, besides severe cold weather conditions prevailing in and around the national capital.

Enacted in September 2020, the government has presented these laws as major farm reforms and aimed at increasing farmers' income, but the protesting farmers have raised concerns that these legislations would weaken the MSP and "mandi" (wholesale market) systems and leave them at the mercy of big corporations.

The government has maintained that 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 the agriculture minister over the last few weeks to extend their support to the three laws.

Last month, the government had sent a draft proposal to the protesting farmer unions, suggesting seven-eight amendments to the new laws and a written assurance on the MSP procurement system. The government has ruled out a repeal of the three agri laws.

(With inputs from PTI)

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