Farmers’ Protest: Ready To Address All Concerns, Govt Tells Farmer Unions At Meeting

Farmers’ Protest: Ready To Address All Concerns, Govt Tells Farmer Unions At Meeting

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The government has told representatives of agitating farmers that it's ready to address all their concerns with an open mind, sources said on Saturday.

The development came after three union ministers—Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Food Minister Piyush Goyal and MoS Commerce Som Parkash—met representatives of farmer unions at the Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi to break the deadlock over farmer protests against the new farm laws.

At the meeting, Tomar said that the government is committed to cordial talks and welcomed all positive feedback on the new farm laws, sources said. Parkash, Member of Parliament from Punjab, said the Centre understands the sentiments of the state. “We are ready to address all your concerns with an open mind,” a source quoted Parkash as telling the union leaders.

The talks between the government and the protesting unions began at 2:30 pm.

In his opening remarks, Tomar—who is leading the talks for the Centre—said that the government is committed to “peaceful talks with farmers’ leaders and does not intend to hurt farmers’ sentiments”.

The agriculture minister welcomed feedback on the three farm laws, while Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agarwal summarised the proceedings of the previous four rounds of talks with farmer unions during the meeting, sources said.

The two sides are believed to have discussed contentious issues, such as the provision of dispute resolution and registration of traders in proposed private mandis under the new farm laws.

Ahead of the meeting, Tomar and Goyal, along with senior union ministers Rajnath Singh and Amit Shah, had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to deliberate over proposals likely to be made to the agitating groups.

Modi’s decision to hold deliberations with union ministers, who have so far been the face of the Centre's efforts to end the farmers' protest, signifies the importance the prime minister has attached to defuse the crisis, sources said.

On Thursday, talks between the union ministers and a representative group of agitating farmers had failed to yield any resolution, as the union leaders stuck to their demand for the repeal of new farm laws despite the government offering to "discuss and consider with an open mind" some key points of concern raised by farmers in the three new laws.

On Friday, farmers announced a 'Bharat Bandh' on Dec. 8 and threatened to intensify their agitation and block more roads leading to New Delhi if the government does not accept their demands.

Enacted in September, the three farm laws have been presented by the government as major reforms in the agriculture sector. The laws remove middlemen and allow farmers to sell anywhere in the country.

However, the protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the new farm laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of minimum support price and scrap the mandis, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates. Centre has maintained that the MSP and mandi systems would continue—in fact, it will be improved and strengthened.

Thousands of farmers have stayed put at various border points of Delhi for the past nine days as part of their protest against the farm laws.

Before the start of the meeting, an All India Kisan Sabha functionary said that only repealing of the new farm laws will end the stalemate. "At this juncture, we have transport unions, retail businesses and other associated groups who have shown solidarity with us. Our movement is not just about farmers," AIKS Finance Secretary Krishna Prasad said.

Outside the meeting venue, employees of the Indian Tourist Transporters Association, which has supplies vehicles to ferry the protesting farmers, were seen holding banners in support of the agitation.

"I'm from a farmer's family. I can related to their fears. We had farm land in Mahipalpur, and now you see T-3 terminal out there,” IITA president Satish Sehrawat told PTI. “We are supporting the protesting farmers in their cause.”

Onkar Singh Agaul, state general secretary of Bharatiya Kisan Union Rajewal, said: "Our demand is the same that the government should withdraw all three farm laws. We want MSP should be guaranteed through law.” He also sought the scrapping of electricity amendment law and an ordinance on stubble burning.

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