Short of repeal, Government is open to options and ready for long haul

Written by Liz Mathew
, Krishn Kaushik
| New Delhi |

Updated: December 7, 2020 3:29:19 am

Farmers union leaders at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi on Saturday. (File photo)

There is “no question of repealing” the three laws against which farmers are protesting but “all other options” are open as the government discusses the range of issues flagged by farmer leaders, a top government official told The Indian Express.

The top government official said that “the resolution can only be found through discussions” and added that if the farmers are willing to continue their protests for long, the government is “also prepared”.

He was speaking a day after the government told farmers it was willing to amend certain provisions of the laws, give a written assurance on MSP and procurement, but farmer representatives insisted on a repeal of all three laws.

Giving in to this will underline a lack of political will and could “permanently damage” prospects of bringing in much-needed agriculture reforms, said a senior leader. Given this, one option, a source said, could be “dropping some provisions or keeping the implementation of the contentious law in abeyance”.

“Of course, we will wait to see what farmers come back to us with on December 9,” said the top official. “But we are in no rush. As of now, whatever the Agriculture Minister (Narendra Singh Tomar) has told the farmers…that’s the Government’s stand.”

Preparing for the December 9 round of talks, on Sunday, Tomar, who is leading the Government’s team in the talks, held a meeting with his two deputies Kailash Choudhary and Parshottam Rupala.

The government would have preferred to hold the discussions with a smaller team, the top official said, as, “it is challenging to hold negotiations with 35-40 people at the same table”.

In the first meeting on December 1, the government had proposed that a small team including some government officials could look into the issue but representatives of farmer unions had spurned that offer saying discussions should happen with everyone, even if a select few of them speak.

On Saturday, before Tomar and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal headed for the fifth round of discussions with the farmers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held a meeting with them and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Home Minister Amit Shah.

Sources said the government will field either Singh or Shah or both at a “later stage” if it senses any climbdown by the farmers on the offers the government has made so far.

“The idea was to bring down the temperature with the first round of talks – we were quite aware that it would go on for several rounds – and find common ground so that seniors could step in. However, the farmers have not yet shown any sign of yielding,” said a senior BJP leader. “We have not given up hope that both the government and the farmers can find a middle path.”

Still, a section of party leaders admitted that there could have been more spadework when the protests erupted. “Some leaders feel that if there was more time between the introduction of the Bills and their passage, we could have avoided such a scenario,” said a leader.

“At least, some Opposition parties would not have the chance to throw their weight behind the protesters if we had accepted their demand for sending it to a parliamentary panel.”

The top government official said that MSP cannot be hardwired into the law as it will have significant financial implications and will lead to inflation.

After Saturday’s meeting Tomar had said that “many issues” had come forward during the discussions, and whatever the outcome, it will be in the farmers’ interests.

He said that the “APMC Act is a state Act” and the government neither has the “intention to affect the state’s mandis nor these are being affected by the new farm laws.”

Government sources had indicated that a special session of the Parliament to resolve the standoff is being considered but a decision has not been taken on that yet.

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