No Headway In Talks Between Farmers And Centre Over Punjab Rail Blockade
A meeting between farmers' unions and the government to resolve the ongoing rail traffic disruption and blockade in Punjab ended inconclusively on Friday, with both sides sticking to their ground.
Chief Minister Amarinder Singh welcomed the "positive spirit" in which the farmer unions and the central government held the discussions and termed it a "constructive development".
The meeting with representatives of various farmers unions at Vigyan Bhawan in Delhi was attended by Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Prakash. Punjab government representatives were also present.
During the seven-hour-long crucial meeting, both sides heard each other's views and tried to find common ground for restoring rail services in Punjab, currently blockaded.
"The meeting remained inconclusive and the ministers, after hearing our side, said they would again meet shortly to resolve the issue," Bhartiya Kisan Manch President Jathedar Boota Singh Shadipur told PTI after the meeting.
He said the farmers' unions wanted goods trains services to resume as Punjab was suffering due to the blockade. Train services to the state remain suspended due to the farmers' agitation over the new farm laws.
However, the centre was keen to start both passenger and goods trains to Punjab simultaneously and end the blockade. The farmers had reservations on starting passenger services and said they would discuss the matter, but were keen that the railways resume running freight trains.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal) President Balbir Singh Rajewal said a preliminary discussion was held on Friday and hoped for an early resolution. He added that train services may start soon.
The farmers' unions are expected to meet again on November 18 in Chandigarh to chalk out further strategy on the issue.
The state president of the Krantikari Kisan Union, Darshan Pal, said, "We put forth our demands, including repeal of the new farm laws and the new pollution legislation, besides a guarantee to ensure that farm produce would be bought at MSP."
"No solution could be found in today's meeting. But, it was decided that talks should continue. We will positively decide on starting train services in Punjab," he told PTI.
The impasse on running trains in the state, however, continued with the railway minister sticking to his stand of not running selective trains in the region. The railways ministry has said if train operations are to resume in the state, the state government has to assure 100% security clearance for all kinds of trains.
Sources said both sides were firm on their respective stands on the new farm laws.
The farmers stuck to their stand that these legislations must be repealed and replaced with another set of laws framed via wider consultation with all stakeholders. They also demanded a guarantee on the MSP front.
During the interaction, the ministers informed the representatives of farmer unions that procurement of their produce at minimum support price and the Mandi system will continue as before. The new farm laws will encourage the mandis to provide better services to the farmers, they said.
According to an official statement, the talks were held in a cordial atmosphere and both sides agreed to continue to hold further discussions.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, in a statement, said, "The fact that both sides came to the table and agreed to find solutions suggests that they had come to a mutual realisation on the need to find solutions to the prolonged crisis triggered by the farm laws."
He hoped the internal discussions proposed by the farmers’ unions on November 18, ahead of another meeting with the centre on November 21, will help "identify concrete ways and means to resolve out various points raised at today's extensive discussions".
Punjab has suffered huge financial losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic. That has been exacerbated by the current crisis triggered by the centre's farm laws, said Singh while stressing on the need for urgent resolution of the matter in the interest of the state and all sections of its populace.
"It is also in the interest of the entire country to settle the differences that had so far prevented the two sides from resolving the crisis," he added.