In talks with farmers, Centre agrees to put on hold electricity Bill and withdraw some provisions in NCR air quality ordinance; both sides to meet on January 4

Published : December 31, 2020 07:44 IST

Farmer leaders in a discussion before going in for a meeting with the government in New Delhi on December 30. Photo: Manish Swarup/AP

On December 30, after a five-hour-long discussion that marked the seventh round of talks with representatives of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), the Central government conceded two of the four demands listed as agenda items by the farmers. The government was represented by Narendra Tomar, Agriculture Minister; Piyush Goyal, Minister for Commerce and Industry; and Som Parkash, Union Minister of State. Even though there was no decision on the demand to repeal the three contentious farm laws, the government agreed to put on hold the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020 and withdraw the stringent provisions in the Commission for Air Quality Management in the National Capital Region (NCR) and Adjoining Regions Ordinance 2020.

The discussion with the farmers’ groups was held 22 days after the last meeting on December 8, which was with Home Minister Amit Shah. As there was some nominal progress, the farmers’ groups decided to call off the tractor trolley march scheduled for December 31. They also said that the movement would continue until the repeal of the three farm laws. The farmers’ protest on the borders of Delhi completed 34 days on December 30. Despite the cold weather conditions threatening to get worse with each passing day, the farmers have persisted with their protest and the main demand.

In a statement issued on a social media platform, Hannan Mollah, general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha and working group member of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination committee, said: “The talks took place in a somewhat conducive atmosphere. The government had a conciliatory approach today. The government said that we should accept the amendments to the farm laws instead of demanding the repeal and asked if we had alternatives. We reiterated our demand to legalise MSP and asked them whether they were principally in agreement with legalisation. They replied in the negative and said they would continue with the MSP. They were agreeable to discussing how to make the MSP system better but did not commit to give a legal framework. There was some one percent flexibility on part of the government. If the talks fail on January 4, then we will take out the tractor trolley march. They appealed to us to send the elderly, women and children back home because of the cold weather. We told them that more and more elderly people are eager to join in and that protests were only spreading across the country and that the onus was on the government to settle the issue soonest. The ball was on the court of the government.”

Dharampal Singh Seal, general secretary, All India Kisan Sabha (Punjab), said the Jathebandis (farmer groups) told the government representatives that the repeal was a must. “Before lunch time, all of us insisted on the repeal. The government insisted on us suggesting amendments. They said they were keen that the protests should come to an end. Post lunch they asked us to suggest alternatives. Narendra Tomar made an emotional appeal that he would be happy if the elderly, women and children could be sent back. If the government’s response is positive, farmers’ organisations would also respond accordingly. It depends on what happens on January 4,” he said.

After the farmers’ organisations expressed their willingness for talks and suggested December 29 as a possible date, the government fixed December 30, 2 p.m. for the proposed talks. However, the letter sent by the joint secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, was non-committal regarding the agenda for discussion. In contrast, the farmers’ organisations under the aegis of SKM, the joint front representing more than 40 farmer fronts, had spelled out a four- point agenda for discussion beginning with the modalities for the repeal of the laws, modalities for creating a legal framework for a remunerative MSP and procurement based on the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission; amendments to the Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR and Adjoining Regions Ordinance and withdrawal of the Electricity Amendment Bill 2020.

On December 27, in his Mann Ki Baat broadcast Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not refer to the farmers’ protests but once again hinted that there were insidious designs behind the protest. He referred to many Sikh saints as it was the day when the Sikhs remembered their martyrs. His broadcast was met with the clanging of utensils by farmers as a mark of protest.

The rumblings in the National Democratic Alliance have also continued. Hanuman Beniwal, founder of Rashtriya Loktantrik Party and Lok Sabha Member from Nagaur, Rajasthan, quit the NDA and joined the protest at Shahjahanpur on the Rajasthan-Haryana border along with a thousand-strong contingent of farmers. In a statement, Amra Ram former president of the AIKS and Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj Abhiyan said that the protest at Shahjahanpur-Kheda border had entered its 13th day and was now three kilometers long. The freezing temperatures have been felt the most by protesters here as their makeshift tents were flanked by open fields of mustard.