New Delhi: The Modi government has outlined seven points it is ready to offer farmers at Saturday’s talks about the controversial farm laws, ThePrint has learnt.
According to sources in the government, the administration is ready to offer three amendments to the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, aka the ‘contract farming law’, and a written circular assuring MSP. Apart from this, the government is said to be ready to address other farmer concerns too by diluting the fine imposed on stubble burning, and changing the draft Electricity (Amendment) Bill.
This proposal, arrived at Friday after a brainstorming session between Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and ministry officials, was discussed at the high-level meeting led by PM Narendra Modi ahead of the talks Saturday.
The talks were attended by Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Tomar and Union Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, who is part of the delegation holding discussions with farmers.
The farmers’ protests, which were underway in Punjab since the three laws were passed in September, reached Delhi last Friday. The farmers have been holed up at Delhi’s borders as two rounds of talks over the past week have failed to yield a resolution.
At the previous meeting Thursday, the farmers, at the government’s request, furnished a document detailing their objections, clause-by-clause, to the laws. The government, sources said, is eager to end the protest amid concerns that it might strengthen further, with farmers threatening a Bharat Bandh on 8 December and planning to gherao Parliament.
The sources hinted that even the Prime Minister might meet the farmer leaders to resolve the deadlock. Senior BJP leaders said the government didn’t see this as a clash of egos and was ready to blink to address farmers’ concerns.
Before his meeting with the PM, Tomar said he is hopeful a solution will emerge after the talks scheduled for Saturday afternoon.
“We are hopeful that some solution will emerge. All issues will be discussed at the meeting. Farmers should also consider ending the deadlock,” he added.
What is on offer
Talking about the offer the government has outlined for the farmers, sources said “there are six points”.
Sources added that a “plan B” was also discussed at the PM-led meeting, in case farmers reject the offer and harden their stance.
“Knowing this could be the last meeting with farmers before they escalate their protest because farmers’ patience is running out, the government is sensing there is pressure on farmers union leaders too to get a reasonable deal to show their community,” said a source. “The government is sensitive to their concerns. The government is considering various options. I can tell you one thing, after the meeting, the PM wants to end the deadlock as early as possible.”
Of the three laws passed by Parliament earlier this year, farmers are primarily opposed to the provisions of the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, aka the ‘contract farming law’.
The law allows all farmers to sell their produce outside APMC mandis, without going through licensed traders. While the law aims to free farmers from APMC charges and the obligation of making sales through middlemen, it appears to have evoked concerns that it will lead to the dismantling of the APMC framework.
Since farmers are assured fixed prices for certain products at APMC mandis, this has sparked fears that sales outside may translate to lower returns.
Farmers want the government to ensure that, even in the open market, no one should be allowed to make purchases below the minimum support price (MSP).
Another fear concerns the grievance redressal mechanism outlined under the law, which requires farmers to approach district authorities if a certain buyer fails to uphold their purchase or payment commitments. This has been dismissed as a more bureaucratic and time-consuming process.
The proposal discussed
To address these concerns, the government has proposed an amendment in Section 6 of the Act to “provide a level playing field at APMC mandis and the private market”, by introducing a cess for open-mandi sales.
This is meant to address concerns that the absence of cess in sales outside APMC mandis may cause buyers to abandon the wholesale markets, where farmers are assured an MSP.
The government is also eyeing proper registration of traders outside APMC to protect farmers’ interest in sales.
Under Section 15 of the Act, on grievance redressal, they are likely to allow farmers to approach civil courts.
Further, sources said, the government is ready to issue a circular assuring farmers of continued MSP.
Other concessions are dilution of fines for stubble burning — which is considered to be among the factors stoking smog in north India every year, and lifting of cases lodged against farmers in this regard.
It has also proposed direct transfer of subsidy on electricity to farmers’ account under the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill.
The government, sources said, may not approach Parliament for the amendments but effect them through changes in the rules and regulations, which are yet to be notified.
Sources in the BJP said the “government is sensing that right now the agitation is in the hands of union leaders, and it is good for the government to negotiate and handle it”.
“But if the protest goes on for a prolonged stretch, and its scale widens, the agitation may go out of hand of leaders and anti-social elements can disturb law and order and peace,” a source said. “This is the main concern of the government. That is the reason the government wants to arrive at an agreement without any ego.”
A second senior BJP leader involved in the negotiations said the government is viewing this protest as different in nature from those against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) earlier this year.
“This agitation is a farmers’ agitation, not CAA protest, which was an agitation carried out by certain liberals. The PM understands the public mood and repercussions better than anybody. The government can take drastic amendments if they agree, even call a short session of Parliament to pass amendments,” the leader said. “There is no ego issue, ultimately, if we blink to address farmers’ concerns. It will only go to the PM’s credit.”
The government had offered certain amendments at the meeting Thursday, the fourth round of talks, as well, but farmers refused to settle for anything but the repealing of the laws.
Harinder Singh Lakhanpal, general secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union told ThePrint that farmers around the country are united in protest.
“If the government is thinking it’s only a Punjab-centric protest, we will show them on 8 December that farmers of the entire country farmers are united on this issue,” he said. “If they want to see numbers, we will show them numbers… Entire country will take part in the bandh.”
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