After the seventh round of talks, farmer leaders said the government said it needs to consult internally and thereafter it would come back to the unions.
The seventh round of talks between Union Ministers and protesting farm unions on Monday failed to resolve the deadlock over three new agricultural reform laws. Both sides stuck to their own positions and accused the other of stubbornness, with the Centre seeking to discuss specific concerns on the laws and the farmers demanding total repeal. The next meeting will be held on January 8.
Tens of thousands of farmers have now completed 40 days of agitation on the borders of Delhi, braving bitter cold and pouring rain over the last few days.
“There will be no ghar vapasi (return home) until the laws are repealed,” Rakesh Tikait, leader of one factions of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, vowed after the meeting with Union ministers.
Although the 41 union representatives and three Central ministers were closeted in the conference centre of Vigyan Bhavan for four hours, an extended lunch break — during which the ministers held internal consultations — took up almost half that time.
The meeting began with the attendees observing two minutes’ silence to pay respects to the more than 50 protestors who have died over the course of the agitation. Farm unions also urged the Centre to condemn the “brutality” of the Haryana Police, which had used tear gas and chilli grenades on a group of protestors who broke through barricades on the Delhi-Jaipur highway on Sunday.
During the first hour, the ministers listed the benefits of the three laws, saying they would bring more marketing choices for farmers.
The union leaders reiterated their demand for repeal, repeating their assertion that the reforms will weaken the system of regulated markets and government procurement at a set price, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by large corporates.
“We wanted to have a clause by clause discussion of the laws, but the unions remained stuck on a one point demand for repeal, so no decision could be reached,” said Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar. “Two hands are needed to clap. Both sides need to take steps forward to find a solution,” he added.
The unions held the Centre responsible for the lack of progress. “The government does not seem to have the desire to find a solution,” said Abhimanyu Kohar, spokesperson for the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh. There was no discussion on the demand for a new law guaranteeing minimum support prices, he added.
Unlike during the last round of talks, the ministers did not participate in the langar lunch organised by farmers. Instead, they huddled for their own discussions, extending the break to almost two hours.
“When they returned, they kept asking us in different ways whether we would consider any option other than repeal. We told them that we could not do so, as there are thousands of farmers sitting in the cold on the border for this one demand, and lakhs of farmers back in the villages who are also expecting it,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, a representative of the Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch.
Union leaders warned that the government would face dire consequences if they did not listen to the will of the people, she added.
After another half an hour of discussions, the meeting ended with an agreement to reconvene on January 8. The unions will hold their own internal consultation on Tuesday.