Monday, March 1, 2021

Govt indicates offer to farmers still on table, channel for talks kept open

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NEW DELHI Although the farmers’ protest march on Republic Day took a violent turn, leaving many police personnel injured and leading to the destruction of public property, government managers indicated on Wednesday that the Centre will keep its communication channels with farm unions open and its offer to put the three controversial agricultural laws in abeyance for 18 months will stay.

On January 25, after the 11th round of meetings between the government and the farmers’ unions, Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar maintained that the Centre’s proposal to suspend the farm laws for one to one-and-half years was the “best offer” it could make and the farmers should reconsider it.

The offer, however, is seen by many farm leaders as a tactic by the government to buy time, particularly keeping in mind the Punjab assembly elections due in February 2022.

At least three government managers, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday that there hasn’t been any thinking so far in the government to withdraw the offer to keep the laws in abeyance in the wake of the violence by a section of the farmers in New Delhi on Tuesday.

“It was the final offer from the government and it has not been withdrawn. The violence will be dealt with as per the law but talks with farmers can always continue,” said an official.

Another official said the government will be ready to meet farmers’ representatives whenever they are ready. The government has made its offer. It’s up to the farmers now to respond,” a second official said.

Two days before the violence broke out in parts of Delhi, Tomar maintained the Centre had made its best offer and would wait for the farmers to return to the negotiating table.

“The government has given the best offer to farmers’ unions. I am hopeful that they will convey their decision to us after discussing it among themselves. Once they communicate, we will take it forward,” Tomar said.

The first official, however, said the government seem to have an upper hand because public sympathy for the farm law protesters has largely wanted after the visuals of chaos in Red Fort, mob violence and attempts to run tractors over policemen emerged on social media.

“The government crisis managers might feel they are now better positioned in the negotiations. But thousands of genuine farmers are still out in the street camps and yet to go back to their states. So, the government can’t take it easy,” said the first official.

According to the three officials, another round of meetings may take place soon.

The government has pushed a set of agricultural laws to ease restrictions in farm trade, allow traders to stockpile large quantities of food stocks for future sales and lay down a national framework for contract farming based on written agreements. Farmers staging a massive protest on several of Delhi’s border points since November 26 say the laws will erode their bargaining power and leave them at the mercy of big corporations.

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