Talks between the Centre and farmer unions opposed to the new agriculture laws failed to make headway Friday after the unions insisted on repeal of the laws, only to be told by the government to “suggest an alternative other than repeal”.
While the two sides agreed to sit across the table again on January 15, all eyes are now on the Supreme Court where hearing on a clutch of petitions is scheduled January 11.
Leaders of the unions claimed they were told by the government to go to the Supreme Court or form a committee with representatives of the two sides.
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Minister of State Som Prakash, who along with Food Minister Piyush Goyal have been negotiating with the farmers, said reference to the Supreme Court hearing on January 11 did come up during the talks.
Last month, the Supreme Court, while noting that the Centre’s talks with farmer groups did not appear to be yielding results, had said it would form a committee comprising representatives of the Centre and farmers organisations to try and resolve the impasse – farmer unions, the majority from Punjab, have been camping at the gates of Delhi since November 26.
Two days ago, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India S A Bobde posted the matter to January 11 after Attorney General K K Venugopal told the court that “there are chances of the parties coming to some sort of an understanding”.
Emerging from the meeting Friday, Tomar said: “The discussions today were related to the three laws, but no decision could be reached. The government repeatedly requested the unions to suggest an alternative other than the repeal, and the government would consider it. But even after a long discussion, no alternative was presented. Therefore, the discussion was adjourned today.”
“They (farmer leaders) will discuss among themselves. We will also discuss among ourselves. I hope we will be able to find a solution at the next meeting on 15th,” he said.
Responding to questions from reporters, Tomar said while the government did not tell the farmer unions to leave the matter to the Supreme Court, the January 11 hearing did come up during the talks.
“We are citizens of a democratic country and in our democracy, if a law is passed by Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, then the Honourable Supreme Court, naturally, has the right to analyse. Be it a citizen or the government, there is commitment to the Supreme Court. So, this topic came up because the Supreme Court has fixed 11th as the date (of hearing). The government is committed to any decision of the Supreme Court, whichever direction it may be in,” he said.
Asked whether the government was ready to form an informal group of farmer unions and the government, Tomar said: “Many such matters are discussed at meetings, but this has not yet happened.”
To another query on whether the government would consider a proposal to let states decide the implementation of the laws, Tomar said no such proposal has been made by any farmer leader, but if such a suggestion does come, the government will take a call then.
Minister of State Som Prakash too said the January 11 hearing in the Supreme Court was mentioned during the talks. “It came up during discussions… We discussed several things. Farmers were adamant on the demand for repeal of laws,” he said.
Baldev Singh Nihalgarh, Punjab general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha, described the talks as “very disappointing”.
“I have been part of all eight meetings, but today’s meeting was very disappointing. Discussions did not take place very well. The government side gave two suggestions — go to the Supreme Court or form a small committee, which we have already rejected. We will not go to the court… We have told the government that our agitation will continue,” Nihalgarh said.
Prem Singh Bhangu, president of All India Kisan Federation, said: “As expected, today’s meeting too did not yield any result. At the January 4 meeting, we were told that talks will start on the repeal procedure, but the Agriculture Minister told us again that the laws are very good and we should go for amendments. They also told us to wait for the Supreme Court hearing on January 11 as it is a constitutional matter and farmers too can approach the court with their demands. But when they continued to speak on benefits of the laws, we told them that we are not keen to discuss this subject.”
“Regarding the Supreme Court hearing, eight unions, including BKU Dakaunda, BKU Rajewal, BKU Lakhowal, BKU Tikait, All India Kisan Federation, Jamhoori Kisan Sabha, Doaba Kisan Sabha, are respondents in the matter. Our lawyers will be going to court on Monday, let us see what happens. However, if any direction is against us, we will protest,” he said.
Kulwant Singh, president of Jamhoori Kisan Sabha, said: “I wonder why the government is so keen to wait until the Supreme Court hearing… They even suggested that we approach the court for repeal, and with day-to-day hearing, we can get a quick decision. They said they can’t repeal the laws as it will set a wrong precedent.”
Jagmohan Singh Patiala, working committee member of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), said: “It was back to square one today. Besides asking us to approach the Supreme Court, they also told us to form an informal committee in which representatives of government, farmers will be there to decide on the laws. But we have rejected both proposals.”
Darshan Pal of Krantikari Kisan Union said: “We are not keen to move the Supreme Court for the repeal of the three laws, and want this matter to be discussed across the table.”