By Vishwa Mohan and Neel Kamal | TNN
NEW DELHI/BATHINDA, 10 December 2020
Talks between the government and farmers’ groups agitating against the new agri laws broke down on Wednesday with the unions rejecting the Centre’s offer to amend the legislations.
They pledged to escalate the stir by organising a ‘Delhi chalo’ and an all-India protest on 14 December, a boycott of BJP legislators and a blockade of the Delhi-Jaipur highway any time by 12 December during which no toll booth would be allowed to levy any charge.
Digging in their heels, the leaders said they would settle for nothing less than scrapping all three recently passed farm laws that seek to increase the role of private trade in agriculture, encourage contract farming and set a higher bar for imposing stock limits.
The series of steps announced by farm leaders sets the stage for intensified confrontation with the Centre even as the unions announced a boycott of Ambani and Adani products — the groups the groups held up as symbols of “corporatisation” of agriculture.
The announcements also put an end to five rounds of negotiations with the Centre, the last being with home minister Amit Shah on Tuesday.
Farm leader Shiv Kumar ‘Kakka’ said there was nothing new in the amendments offered by the Centre and added that they had made their demands plain to Shah who urged them to discuss issues so that mistakes could be set right. However, it was decided that there would be no retreat on the demand to repeal the laws, he said.
Government sources said the farmers had insisted on “maximalist” demands and the Centre had done its best to address concerns with a genuine desire to resolve issues. “The farm unions have insisted on scrapping the laws, rejecting credible assurances,” a senior minister said.
BKU Rajewal president Balbir Singh Rajewal said, “We are firm on our stand that we need no amendments, we want these laws to be repealed.” He said they were answerable to lakhs of farmers whom they had assured that “we will not return till the three laws are repealed”.
Krantikari Kisan Union’s Darshan Pal said the struggle would now be intensified and a call of ‘Delhi Chalo’ would be given for farmers from states near Delhi on 14 December.
In its draft, the Centre assured it would give a written guarantee of continuing the minimum support price (MSP) and the APMC Act and to empower state governments to allow private persons to work outside the APMC only after registration and paying market fee. The states would also be authorised to register entities which deal in foodgrains and that jurisdiction of the SDM to listen to grievances would be enlarged to judicial courts.
Though the government’s note to the farm unions explained the rationale behind the reforms while offering several amendments, the unions did not find the concessions enough to end their 14-day protest on Delhi’s borders. They said Delhi’s borders would be gradually choked with more protesters arriving from several states.
“We reject the government’s proposals. We will intensify our agitation now. A call has been given to farmers in states near Delhi such as Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Haryana for ‘Delhi chalo’. In other states, ‘dharnas’ will continue indefinitely,” Darshan Pal of Krantikari Kisan Union said.
Calling the government’s 21-page draft an “insult to the farmers of the country”, the union leaders said they now had no option but to step up their protest.
“We told the home minister during our discussion with him that we have already had five rounds of talks before. We said if he had discussed the laws before introducing and passing them in Parliament, this situation would not have arisen. He said the mistake could be solved together. We again demanded a complete repeal of the laws,” Kakka of Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Mahasangh said.
After the farmers’ announcement to carry on with their protests, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar rushed to Shah’s residence for discussions on the future course of action. Officials in the agriculture ministry said the draft proposal carried all the points which the government could do by introducing amendments.