Seventh round of government-farmer talks ends in a stalemate; Reliance Industries clarifies that it has no plan to enter corporate or contract farming

Published : January 04, 2021 22:11 IST

Farmers and their representatives at a ‘langar’' arranged by the Delhi Gurdwara Management Committee outside the Vigyan Bhavan during their talks with the government on January 4. Photo: PTI

The seventh round of talks between the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), the front representing 40 farmer organisations, and the Central government on January 4 concluded without any outcome as the government dithered once again on agreeing to the farmers’ main demands of repealing the three contentious farm laws, providing legal guarantees for the Minimum Support Price (MSP) mechanism for all crops, and assured procurement. The talks began with a two-minute silence in memory of the farmers who died since the protest began on November 26. The government representatives also joined in. The next round of talks will be held on January 8.

Before the formal discussions began, the farmer delegation registered a strong protest against the deployment of tear gas shells and chilli powder by the Haryana police on farmers on the Jaipur-Delhi highway on January 3.

Briefing the media, Narendra Singh Tomar, Union Agriculture Minister, insisted that the talks “took place in a congenial atmosphere” but said there had to be a “give and a take”. He said that the two sides discussed the MSP issue but “could not arrive at any conclusion” and that the talks could not move forward as the farmers were “adamant on the issue of repealing the laws”. He said that there were only two issues, the farm laws and the MSP. “Raasta nikalne ke liye, taali dono haath se bajti hai [To find a solution, we have to clap with both hands],” he said, hinting that the farmers might have to soften their stance. He said that not all farmers were against the farm laws and that the government was committed to the interests of “all farmers” and was bound to take a decision for the welfare of all.

In a statement, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha said that during the first half of the talks, the government was “offering amendments” to the farm laws, but the farmers were resolute on their repeal. The government was told in clear terms that there was no alternative but to repeal the laws. Sarwan Singh Pandher, general secretary, Kisan Sangharsh Mazdoor Committee (KSMC), said: “The government’s policy and intention are not honest. First of all, the Minister arrived late. He said that the laws ccould not be repealed as they had been passed in Parliament. ,They didn’t come out with any concrete suggestion. They keep on fixing new dates. We told them the next round of talks will have to be on the farm laws only and nothing else. Our protests will be intensified.”

The KSMC, which has mobilised a huge contingent of farmers at the Singhu border on National Highway 44, participated in the talks for the first time as it felt that the government had softened its stance because Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not “uttered a single word in favour of the farm laws over the last few days” and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had disapproved the use of terms like “Khalistani” and “Maoist” used for the protesters.

But the police action on the protests has continued relentlessly. In Sangrur district, Punjab, activists of the Krantikaari Kisan Union were assaulted by the police when they organised protests against the sitting Member of Parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). In Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, Section 144 of the CrPC was imposed in many places so that protests could not be held against the farm laws. The farmer delegation told the government that this was in violation of the Supreme Court’s order that the farmers had a right to protest peacefully.

Despite dipping temperatures and rains lashing the National Capital Region and police action, the enthusiasm of the farmers at all the five protest points on the borders of Delhi has not dampened as yet. In fact, each day, fresh convoys of tractor trolleys arrive to join in at the border points. On January 5, women health workers and Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) workers from Punjab and Haryana will march to reach Tikri at the Delhi-Haryana border. On January 7, a thousand-strong contingent of farmers from Chhattisgarh is expected to reach Delhi.

In fact, the general sentiment was summed up by Rakesh Tikait, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Uttar Pradesh), who spoke to the media after the conclusion of the talks on January 4: “Kanoon waapsi nahi to ghar waapsi nahi [We will not go back until the laws are repealed].”

Reliance’s statement

Meanwhile, Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) issued a statement clarifying that it had nothing to do with the farm laws and had no plans to enter corporate or contract farming. The statement was ostensibly issued in the wake of alleged vandalism of its mobile phone towers in Punjab. In a statement to the media, it said that the company “had nothing to do whatsoever with the three farm laws currently debated in the country and in no way benefits from them. As such, the sole nefarious purpose of linking the name of Reliance to these laws is to harm our businesses and damage our reputation. Reliance Retail Limited (RRL), Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited or any other affiliate of our parent company, i.e., Reliance Industries Limited, have not done any ‘corporate’ or ‘contract’ farming in the past and have absolutely no plans to enter this business.”

It stated that neither Reliance nor any of its subsidiaries had purchased any agricultural land directly or indirectly in Punjab and Haryana or anywhere else in India for the purpose of “corporate” or contract farming. “We have absolutely no plans to do so,” said the statement. Reliance Retail, it said, “retails products of all categories, including food grains and staples, fruits and vegetables, items of daily use, apparels, medicines, electronic products of various brands belonging to independent manufacturers and suppliers in the country. It does not purchase food grains directly from the farmers. It has never entered into long-term procurement contracts to gain an unfair advantage over farmers or sought that its suppliers buy from farmers at less than remunerative prices, nor will it ever do so.” It claimed that its businesses had helped the Indian farmer.

The company said that it had “immense gratitude and the greatest respect for India’s kisans who are the Anna data of 1.3 billion Indians.… We shall insist on our suppliers to strictly abide by the Minimum Support Price mechanism and or any other mechanism for remunerative price for farm produce, as may be determined and implemented by the government.”

The company had, through its subsidiary Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited, also filed a petition in the Punjab and Haryana High Court seeking the intervention of the government authorities to bring a “complete stop to the illegal acts of vandalism by miscreants”. These acts of violence, claimed the petition, had “endangered the lives of thousands of its employees and caused damage and disruption to the vital communications infrastructure, sales and service outlets run by its subsidiaries in the two States”.

The working group of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a part of the SKM, dismissed the claims of RIL that it had not acquired farm land as false and stated that it was a “ploy to serve its business interests”. In a statement, the AIKSCC said that RIL had taken over huge tracts of land in Raigarh, Maharashtra, which “it should return before making any false claim”.

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