Yielding some ground to end the nearly two-month-long protest by thousands of farmers on the National Capital borders, the Centre on Wednesday proposed to suspend the three contentious farm laws for one and a half years, and set up a committee to look into the future course of action over the legislations. The proposal was made during the tenth round of talks between the two sides.
But farmer leaders did not immediately accept the proposal and said they will revert after their internal consultations, which is slated to be held on Thursday (21 January). The next round of discussions with the Centre has been scheduled for 22 January.
The tenth round of talks was initially scheduled on 19 January but later got postponed to Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, the Supreme Court issued a notice to the Centre on an application filed by a farmers' group seeking the reconstitution of the committee to help resolve the deadlock over the new laws. The court also refused to pass orders on the Centre's petition to stop the farmers' planned tractor rally on Republic Day.
In the last round of talks, the government had asked protesting farmers to prepare a concrete proposal about their objections and suggestions on the three farm laws for further discussion at their next meeting to end the long-running protest. But, unions stuck to their main demand of a complete repeal of the three Acts.
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, are protesting at various border points of Delhi for over a month now against the three laws. Farmer groups have alleged these laws will end the mandi and MSP procurement systems and leave the farmers at the mercy of big corporates, even as the government has rejected these apprehensions as misplaced.
Earlier in the day, a group of farm union leaders met top officials of Delhi Police, Haryana Police and Uttar Pradesh Police to discuss the route and arrangements for their tractor rally on 26 January to protest against the three farm laws.
Centre ready to suspend legislations for one-and-a half years
Briefing media after a nearly five-hour-long meeting that included two breaks, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government has proposed to suspend implementation of the three laws for 1-1.5 years, during which period a joint committee of representatives from the government and farmers' sides can continue their talks and those protesting on Delhi borders in extremely cold weather return to their homes.
The three laws have already been stayed by the Supreme Court till further orders and a committee of experts has been formed to resolve the deadlock. The panel has been asked by the apex court to submit its report within two months after consulting all stakeholders.
The committee held its first meeting on Tuesday and will begin its consultations with farmer groups and others from Thursday.
After the meeting, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) president Joginder Singh Ugrahan said, "The government proposed to suspend the farm laws for one and a half years. We rejected the proposal but since it has come from the government, we will meet tomorrow and deliberate over it."
Another farmer leader Kavitha Kuruganti said the government also proposed to submit an affidavit in the Supreme Court for suspending the three farm laws for a mutually-agreed period and set up a committee.
Kulwant Singh Sandhu of Jamuri Kisan Sabha said, "The government is on backfoot and it has started yielding ground to us."
Earlier during the meeting, the government also again offered to amend the three laws but farmer leaders stuck to their demand for a complete repeal and alleged that the Centre was avoiding discussion on a legal guarantee for MSP.
Farmer leaders said there was no breakthrough in the first two sessions as both sides were stuck on their stated positions vis-a-vis the three farm laws and it was clear from the very beginning that there was little hope of any outcome other than fixing the date for the 11th round.
Tomar, however, said the government was keen to reach a final decision in today's meeting on the auspicious day of Gurupurab, and therefore, it started with greetings for the occasion.
"The government was ready to discuss provisions of the laws with an open mind and a big heart," he said.
Farmer leaders insist on repeal of farm laws
Tomar told PTI that the talks were held in a cordial atmosphere despite some 'naram-garam' moments (softening and hardening of the stand) and farmers remained adamant on their demand for the repeal of the laws. He, however, asserted that some headway was made towards reaching a solution in the next meeting to end the agitation.
"It will be victory for Indian democracy the day farmers' agitation ends and they return to their homes," he said in reply to a question whether it would be a victory for the farmers or the government.
Asked whether the 22 January meeting at 12 pm could be the last one, Tomar said he is hopeful of reaching an amicable solution in the next round of talks.
The minister said the new proposal has been made to allay farmers' apprehensions and instil confidence that the government is ready for discussion with an open heart.
"The Supreme Court has stayed the agri-reform laws for a short duration. Their implementation will not happen for some time. But, we have been telling the unions that it will require more time to consider the laws and to discuss other aspects related to the agitation. The required time maybe six months, one year or one and a half years," he said.
"Therefore, we told the unions that the government is ready to put on hold the implementation of the laws for 1-1.5 years. I am happy that the farmer unions took this proposal seriously on the birth anniversary of Guru Gobind Singh," he said.
Asked whether the proposed committee will continue alongside the SC-appointed expert panel, Tomar said, "The government is committed to the Supreme Court and will remain so. The committee appointed by the apex court is doing its job, but the government also has direct accountability towards farmers and the situation arising out of the protest. Therefore, we are taking forward this discussion while discharging our responsibility."
The modalities of the proposed panel, including the number of members, can be finalised after the two sides reach an in-principle agreement on this proposal, the minister said.
At the meeting, farmer leaders also raised the issue of NIA notices being served to some farmers, alleging it was being done just to harass those supporting the agitation, to which the government representatives said they will look into the matter.
The farmer leaders presented multiple Parliament replies given by the agriculture minister where he had stated that agriculture is a state subject, while one reply mentioned even agri-marketing as a state subject.
"The government offered to carry out some amendments, but farmer leaders maintained they do not want anything less than a complete repeal of the laws," union leader Rakesh Tikait said.
Tomar was accompanied by Railways, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash, who is an MP from Punjab, at the talks with 41 representatives of farmer unions at Vigyan Bhawan in Delhi.
Before the meeting, the three ministers also met senior BJP leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
SC issues notice to Centre on plea seeking reconstitution of panel
The Supreme Court Wednesday expressed strong displeasure over the aspersions cast by some farmers' unions on members of the court-appointed committee to resolve the impasse over new farm laws and said it has not given any adjudicating authority to the panel.
"Where is the question of bias in this? We have not given adjudicating powers to the committee. You don't want to appear is understandable, but casting aspersions on someone because he expressed his view is not done. You don't need to brand anybody like this", said the bench, also comprising Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian.
"Everyone should have an opinion. Even judges have an opinion. This has become a cultural thing. Branding people which you do not want has become a norm. We have not given any power of adjudication to the committee," the bench said.
A controversy had erupted after the apex court-appointed four-member committee featured members who had reportedly favoured the contentious farm laws, following which one of the members recused himself.
Soon after the top court announced the expert committee, the protesting farmers said they will not accept any such panel, and said that all the members are in favour of the new laws.
An article in Mint quoted a statement from the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, a coalition of farm unions, as saying, "It is clear that the court is being misguided by various forces even in its constitution of a committee. These are people who are known for their support to the three Acts and have actively advocated for the same."
Police should decide on tractor rally, says SC
During the hearing on Wednesday, the Centre withdrew its plea seeking an injunction against the proposed tractor rally on 26 January after the top court said "it is a police matter".
The police have the "authority" to deal with the issue pertaining to the proposed tractor march in Delhi on the Republic Day, the Bench said.
"We have told you that we will not issue any direction. It is a police matter. We will allow you to withdraw. You are the authority and you have to deal with it. You have the powers to pass orders, you do it. It is not for the court to pass orders," the bench said.
After the observation of the apex court, the Centre withdrew the plea filed through Delhi Police seeking an injunction against the proposed tractor or trolley march or any other kind of protest which seeks to disrupt the gathering and celebrations of the Republic Day.
On 12 January, the top court had stayed the implementation of the contentious new farm laws till further orders and constituted the four-member committee to make recommendations to resolve the impasse over them between the Centre and farmers' unions protesting at Delhi borders.
Union leaders reject suggestion of alternative route for 26 Jan rally
Farmer unions opposing the Centre's new agri laws on Wednesday rejected a suggestion by police officers to hold their proposed 26 January tractor rally on the Kundli-Manesar-Palwal Expressway instead of Delhi's busy Outer Ring Road, sources told PTI.
Union leaders and officers of the Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana police forces had met at the Vigyan Bhawan to discuss the route and arrangements of the proposed rally on Republic Day.
The sources said that the farmer leaders were suggested by the police officers to take out their rally on the Kundli Manesar Palwal (KMP) Expressway, but they did not agree.
The Outer Ring Road passes through several areas of Delhi such as Vikaspuri, Janakpuri, Uttam Nagar, Burari Peeragarhi and Pitampura.
Congress to participate in 25 January 'long march'
The Congress, which is one of the constituents in the Shiv Sena-led Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government in Maharashtra, will participate in the "long march" planned by farmer organisations in Mumbai on 25 January against the three new Agri laws of the Centre.
Former Congress minister Naseem Khan said in a statement that the party will support the upcoming four-day agitation organised by the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha (AIKS), farmers' bodies and NGOs against the "black agri laws", beginning from 23 January in the Maharashtra capital.
He said Congress leaders, including Maharashtra unit president Balasaheb Thorat, will join the long march on 25 January, which will be taken out from Azad Maidan in south Mumbai to Raj Bhavan.
Khan alleged the Narendra Modi government wanted to "uproot" farmers by "enslaving" them to capitalists through these three laws.
He said the Congress party has been opposing these laws from the very beginning.
"These oppressive laws of the Central Government will not be implemented in Maharashtra by the MVA government," he said.
The NCP, the second key constituent in the MVA government, on Tuesday announced Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and NCP president Sharad Pawar will take part in the upcoming protests in Mumbai.
With inputs from PTI