New Delhi: The government's negotiations with protesting farm unions hit a roadblock on Friday as the farmer leaders stuck to their demands for a complete repeal of three farm laws they find pro-corporate and a legal guarantee for MSP, even as the Centre asked them to reconsider its proposal for putting the Acts on hold for 12-18 months.
After the 11th round meeting, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said that even though the central government's proposal is in the "interest of farmers and of the country", the protesting unions are determined to not consider any other alternatives except a complete repeal of the laws.
Talking to the media after the 11th round of Centre-farmers meet, the Union Minister said, "The talks remained inconclusive as farmers' welfare was not at the heart of talks from the unions' side. I am sad about it. The farmers unions said that they only want the repeal of the laws despite the government asking for alternatives."
He added, "We asked them to reconsider our proposal as it is in the interest of the farmers and the country. We asked them to convey their decision tomorrow."
The minister reignited the contention that some "external force", which is "against farmers' interests", is trying to ensure that the agitation along Delhi's borders continues.
"The government always maintained it is ready to consider alternatives to repeal. Our proposal is in the interest of farmers and of country. There have been 11 rounds of talks, including one with officials, so far. The government has already given many proposals to end protest, but no resolution is possible when the sanctity of agitation is lost. The farm reform bills got passed in the Parliament for farmers' benefit, but the agitation is mainly being held by those from Punjab and some from few other states," he added.
Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, even after the 11th round of talks between farmer unions and the government, said that he was still hopeful for a positive resolution to the crisis.
"We told unions to get back to us by Saturday with their decision on our proposal; If they agree, we'll meet again. I don't want to speculate, but we're hopeful farmer unions will consider positively our proposal to suspend laws and find a solution. Let's wait till tomorrow to hear farmer unions' final decision. We told farmers to come up with their own proposal, other than repeal, if they have anything better than our offer," he said.
"We thanked all farmer leaders, including those who support our proposal for suspension of laws and those against it
Unlike the last 10 rounds of talks, the 11th round could not even reach a decision on the next date for the meeting as the government also hardened its position saying it is ready to meet again once the unions agree to discuss the suspension proposal.
This followed a big climbdown made by the Centre during the last round when they offered to suspend the laws and form a joint committee to find solutions.
Farmer leaders said they will intensify their agitation now and alleged that the government's approach was not right during the meeting. They also said their tractor rally will go ahead as per the plans on January 26 and unions have told the police that it is the government's responsibility to maintain peace.
While the meeting lasted for almost five hours, the two sides sat face to face for less than 30 minutes.
In the last round of meetings held on Wednesday, the government had offered to put on hold the three laws and set up a joint committee to find solutions. However, after internal consultations on Thursday, the farmer unions decided to reject the offer and stick to their two major demands -- the repeal of the three laws and a legal guarantee of the minimum support price (MSP).
Along with Union Agriculture Minister Tomar, Railways, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash are also participating in the talks with representatives of 41 farmer unions at the Vigyan Bhawan here.
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, are protesting at various border points of Delhi for over a month now against the three laws.
Farmer groups have alleged these laws will end the mandi and MSP procurement systems and leave the farmers at the mercy of big corporates, even as the government has rejected these apprehensions as misplaced.
On January 11, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the three laws till further orders and appointed a four-member panel to resolve the impasse.
Bhartiya Kisan Union president Bhupinder Singh Mann had recused himself from the committee appointed by the apex court.
Shetkari Sanghatana (Maharashtra) president Anil Ghanwat and agriculture economists Pramod Kumar Joshi and Ashok Gulati, the other three members on the panel, started the consultation process with stakeholders on Thursday.
(With inputs from agencies)
(If you have a story in and around Mumbai, you have our ears, be a citizen journalist and send us your story here. )