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PM speaks, let’s talk

Comment: Dialogue, the only way out of the protracted centre-farmer tussle

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reply on debate in Rajya Sabha on Monday is remarkably consequential from government’s view on the ongoing farmer protests at the borders of the national capital since November 26.

There are four things which stand out in PM’s address – one that there is going to be no rethink on going back on these contentious Laws, and centre’s assertion these legislations are route for reforms in the agricultural sector.

Third and amongst the most crucially put up by the PM is the fact that other political parties including Congress, now in principal opposition to the laws, have at one point or another had advocated for similar reforms for the sector.

Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020
Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020

Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020

It is no secret that our agriculture ecosystem despite its stupendous successes and achievements is at an inflexion point and direly needs reforms to avoid stagnation and downturn in productivity and its ability for income generation, and the way forward could only be with consensus and conciliation amongst all stakeholders.

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Prime Minister rightly placed farmers at the heart of country’s efforts to inclusive growth and development exhibiting his government’s intention to do everything needed to herald much needed reforms.

Prime Minister who spoke for the first time since the protests first started in Punjab after the June 5 ordinances were promulgated also offered farmers his offer to talks to “fix any loose ends” on the discussion table.

Coming it from the Prime Minister himself, the offer has all the weight of his government as a backing.

Farmers also, as they have done each time, are likely to respond positively to the talks offer, and whenever the next round takes place both factions must look to reach a consensus to ensure an early way out of the protracted sit in at the Delhi borders.

Photo credit: @KisanEktaMorcha

Similar summit anticipation was rife when the farmers had met the Home Minister Amit Shah on December 2, and though several rounds have taken shape after that too there seems to be no way out.For government’s credit it has blinked first and offered to pause laws for 18 months, an offer the PM had recently asserted was still on the table. Farmers have till now stuck to their maximalist demand of seeking nothing less than repeal of laws which must undergo a rethink.

To begin afresh after the unfortunate interruptions after the horrific January 26 developments, farmers and centre both adopt an open mind and move towards some resolution. Protests can’t go on forever and these are not favourable for overall economy and livelihoods.

TNC Bureau – (The writer is a former journalist)

Here is a timeline of the two-month-old farmers’ protest (Source: India Today):

November 26: Following a nationwide “Chakka jam” on November 5, farmer unions in Punjab and Haryana gave a call for “Delhi Chalo” movement, intensifying their protest against the farm laws. Braving tear gas and water cannons used by Haryana police, the farmers reached the national capital border and set up camps. After ruckus at the Singhu border, Delhi Police allowed the farmers to enter Delhi and protest at the Nirankari ground, in Burari.

December 1: A round of talks between leaders of 35 unions and Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar remained inconclusive after the farmers refused to accept the Centre’s proposal to form a committee to discuss the farm laws. The farmers stuck to their demand of repeal of the laws.

December 3: A fresh round of talks also failed to yield any outcome after a marathon meeting of eight hours. Union leaders flagged several loopholes and deficiencies in the laws even as the Centre made many proposals on MSP and procurement system.
December 5: The fifth round of talks saw the farm leaders going on a “maun vrat” and seeking a clear “yes or no” reply, forcing the Centre to call for another meeting on December 9 to resolve the deadlock.

December 8: Protesting farmer called for a Bharat Bandh, which had its maximum impact in Punjab and Haryana, where roads were blocked and markets remained closed . The shutdown, backed by most Opposition parties and trade unions, also had some impact in states like Odisha, Maharashtra and Bihar.

Later in the evening, a meeting between Union Home Minister Amit Shah and a select group of farmers’ representatives also failed to achieve a breakthrough as leaders rejected the proposal for amendments of the three laws.

December 16: The Supreme Court, hearing a petition seeking immediate removal of protesting farmers due to hardships to commuters, suggested that the Centre put implementation of the new farm laws on hold while putting forward the idea of constituting an impartial and independent committee to end the impasse. The court, however, acknowledged the right of farmers to hold non-violent protests.

December 21: The farmers observed a day-long relay hunger strike at all protest sites and announced a plan to halt toll collection on highways in Haryana from December 25 to 27.

December 30: The sixth round of talks between the government and farmer leaders saw some headway, with the Centre agreeing to drop the penal provisions against farmers in an ordinance relating to stubble burning and to put on hold a proposed electricity amendment law.

January 4: The seventh round of talks ended on an inconclusive note as the farmer leaders continued to press for the withdrawal of the three farm laws, with the government refusing to blink.

January 8: The farmer leaders held their ground during the meeting, which also failed to break the logjam, and told the Centre that their “ghar wapsi” (return to home) would take place only after “law wapsi” (repeal of laws). The govt asked the unions to come up with alternatives to their demand for the repeal of laws.
January 12: The Supreme Court put on hold the implementation of the three farm laws and named a committee to suggest — in two months — what changes, if any, were needed after hearing all sides. The committee includes Bhupinder Singh Mann, National President, Bhartiya Kisan Union and All India Kisan Coordination Committee; Pramod Kumar Joshi, Agricultural Economist and Director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute; Ashok Gulati, Agricultural Economist and Former Chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices; and Anil Ghanwat, President, Shetkari Sanghatana.

January 15: The ninth round of talks also was not fruitful as the protesting farmer unions stuck to their main demand for a complete repeal of the laws even as the government asked them to be more flexible in their approach and expressed its willingness for necessary amendments.
January 21: In the tenth round of dialogue, the government proposed to suspend the three farm laws for one and half years and set up a joint committee to discuss the legislations to end the stalemate.

January 22: The farmers refused to budge from their demand for a total repeal of the legislations as another round of talks hit a roadblock. The government hardened its position, saying it would meet again once the union leaders agree to discuss the suspension proposal.

January 26: Chaos prevailed in the national capital as protesting farmers pelted stones at police personnel and rammed their tractors into the buses parked by the cops at ITO in central Delhi. A DTC bus was also vandalised by angry farmers, prompting the cops to use tear gas and lathicharge to disperse them.

Earlier in the day, groups of farmers broke police barricades at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur border points and forced their way into Delhi — much before the time they were granted permission by Delhi Police for their Republic Day tractor rally.


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