Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Thursday appealed to farm unions to resume talks with the government, and asked them not to chalk out new plans to ramp up their agitation against three new laws that aim to liberalise the farm economy.
Tomar, along with Union railway minister Piyush Goyal, said the government was open to further negotiations with the farm leaders to find a solution.
“Any law is never entirely bad or good. Therefore, we have come out with amendments on provisions which during discussions the farmers had apprehensions about,” Tomar said.
“The government has no ego. The government was, is and will always be open to dialogue,” Tomar said. He added that if farm unions raise specific issues on the laws, the government can work towards solutions.
The government in September deregulated farm markets, giving more space to private traders, to spur investments in a farm sector dependent on subsidies. Thousands of farmers are protesting the changes, saying they will be swallowed up by big corporations.
On Wednesday, the government offered in writing concessions it was willing to make. It proposed giving states greater role in so-called free markets and a written assurance to continue the system of minimum support prices (MSP), which offers farmers state-set assured prices for staples.
“We have addressed all issues that had come out of the discussions. There is nothing in the laws that can impact procurement at minimum support prices. The laws categorically state that there can be no lease or confiscation or auction of a farmer’s land,” Goyal said.
The government has proposed to amend The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 to bring parity between so-called free markets and notified markets controlled by state governments.
Another key offer is to bring additional legal safeguards for farmers’ rights engaging in contract farming “if needed”, including a bar on any confiscation of farm land to recover dues, and possible immunity to farmers from penalties for crop-residue burning, which causes pollution.
Tomar urged farmers not to call off discussions and said farmers should say if they had any objections to the government’s written proposal.
Farmers on Wednesday rejected the proposal of the government to bring amendments, saying they were pretty much based on proposals farm unions had already rejected. “The government has avoided answering farmers opposition that farm laws help only corporates and MNCs, will increase farmers’ input costs, losses, debts and displacement from land,” said Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj India, which is spearheading the agitation under the umbrella platform All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee.
Farm unions on Thursday said they would occupy toll plazas and block the Jaipur-Delhi Highway on December 12 and organise protests from December 14.
Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab, are protesting a set of pro-market agricultural laws by camping on Delhi’s borders. The farmers have stocked up on months of supplies, preparing to dig in for months.
Goyal said a large number of farmers in several states have welcomed the laws. “The recent results to [panchayat] elections in Rajasthan make this clear,” Goyal said. The railways minister was referring to wins by the BJP in panchayat polls in Rajasthan, a Congress-ruled state.
Goyal also said the new laws made local magistrates the final authority to settle disputes between traders and farmers in 30 days because the government’s view was that farmers may find it cumbersome to fight long-drawn court battles.
Farm unions have opposed this provision. “That is why the government’s proposal on this is that amendments will be made to allow farmers to approach civil courts of their choice,” Goyal said.
Tomar said the Modi government remains committed to the well-being of the farming community and had brought policies to increase farm incomes and raise the share of agriculture in the country’s gross domestic product.
“These proposals do not address most of our concerns. Despite rejecting the government’s offer of amendments, it has rehashed the same proposals,” said Kirankumar Vissa of Rythu Swarajya Vedika, a farmer representative.
The new laws allow businesses to freely trade farm produce outside the so-called government-controlled “mandi system”, permit private traders to stockpile large quantities of essential commodities for future sales and lay down new contract-farming rules.
Experts said the agitation is the first “sustainted challenge” the government has faced. “These are the first sustained challenge the Modi government is facing at the ground level. An escalation will further put the Bharatiya Janata Party’s political limits to test,” said KK Kailash who teaches in the political science department of the University of Hyderabad.