In tenth round of talks, farmers reject committee on MSP, to discuss government proposal to suspend controversial laws before both sides meet again on January 22

Published : January 21, 2021 07:27 IST

Representatives of farmers' unions interact with Union Minister Som Prakash during their tenth round of talks with the government at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi, on January 20. Photo: Vijay Verma/PTI

Even as the farmers’ protest completed 56 days on January 20, the tenth round of talks which went on for five and a half hours between the farmers’ unions and the Union government proved inconclusive yet again. The government declined to repeal but offered to suspend the implementation of the three controversial farm laws for a mutually agreed upon period of one to one and a half years. In an attempt to win the confidence of the farmers, the government representatives also proposed to give an affidavit in the Supreme Court about suspending the laws. It said that farmers should consent to the constitution of a committee that would look into aspects of legalising the Minimum Support Price, which the farmers rejected. It was also learnt that the government complained about the financial burden involved in legalising the MSP. No details of the proposed committee, such as its composition, were shared in the meeting.

The unions said that they would discuss the government’s proposals on January 21 among themselves before taking a decision. According to Sarwan Singh Pandher, general secretary of the Kisan Sangharsh Mazdoor Committee, who attended the tenth round of meetings, the government representatives, Narendra Tomar, Agriculture Minister, and Piyush Goyal, Commerce Minister, reiterated that the laws would not be repealed. The farmers’ unions also told the government delegation that people were being harassed and sent notices by the National Investigation Agency. The government asked for a list of persons who had been sent the notices and said it would look into it but gave no assurances about putting a stop to the harassment.

Meanwhile, in the course of a hearing on petitions relating to the protests and the farm laws, the Supreme Court declined to pass any order on the proposed kisan parade on January 26, opining that the issue lay under the purview of the police and law and order agencies. The farmer unions have asserted that their parade would not be obstructionist or destructive as propagated in sections of the media but peaceful to the core, just as the protests at the borders of Delhi have been. They said the parade would take place on the outer ring road.

On January 12, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the three laws and appointed a four-member committee to initiate a dialogue between the government and the farm unions. All four members were known supporters of the farm laws. Two days after the appointment of the committee, one of its members, Bhupinder Singh Mann, chairman of the All India Kisan Co-Ordination Committee and former Rajya Sabha member, withdrew. In a statement, he said: “As a farmer myself and a union leader, in view of the prevailing sentiments and apprehensions amongst the farm unions and the public in general, I am ready to sacrifice any position offered or given to me so as to not compromise the interests of Punjab and farmers of the country, I am recusing myself from the committee and I will always stand with my farmers and Punjab.”

On January 20, the Supreme Court appeared miffed with the opinions expressed by people on the members of the committee. As reported by the legal web portal Bar and Bench, Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde remarked: “We have serious reservations that the committee members were called names. They were called names and then said (we) had an interest in that. I am disappointed to see what has been reported in the press... you cannot brand people like this. People should have an opinion. Even judges express an opinion. Branding people has become a cultural thing now.”

The Supreme Court invited criticism from women’s groups and organisations for suggesting that the senior citizens, women and children sitting on protest should be sent back in view of the cold. Women, they pointed out, constituted a major component of the agricultural work force and stood to lose heavily as a consequence of the farm laws. Thousands of women were found participating in the protests despite the cold. On January 18, to mark the contribution of women in agriculture, a Mahila Kisan Diwas was observed where women took over the stage and conducted the proceedings.

 

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