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Govt-farmers talks to take place as scheduled on Friday; Tomar says hopeful of positive discussion


Tribune News Service
New Delhi, January 14

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Thursday confirmed tomorrow’s talks with farmers as union leaders also said that they will be attending the meeting.

The government’s ninth round of negotiations with protesting farmer unions will take place as scheduled on Friday and the Centre is hopeful of positive discussions, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said.

“The government is ready to hold talks with farmers’ leaders with an open mind,” Tomar told reporters here.

Clearing the confusion over the fate of the ninth round of talks, which was the only outcome in the last meeting on January 8, in the wake of the Supreme Court on January 11 appointing a four-member panel to resolve the impasse and a key member of the proposed committee subsequently recusing himself, Tomar said the talks between the government and the union representatives will take place as scheduled for 12 pm on January 15.

The farmer unions have been maintaining that they were ready to attend the scheduled talks with the government, even as they have said they do not want to appear before the court-appointed panel and have also questioned its composition.

Earlier in the day, Bhartiya Kisan Union president Bhupinder Singh Mann said he is recusing himself from the four-member committee.

Farmer unions and opposition parties had called it a “pro-government” panel, insisting that its members have been in favour of the three laws in the past.

Mann said he is thankful to the apex court for nominating him on the panel but would give up any position to prevent farmers’ interests from being compromised.

“As a farmer myself and a union leader, in view of the prevailing sentiments and apprehensions amongst the farm unions and the public in general, I am ready to sacrifice any position offered or given to me so as to not compromise the interests of Punjab and farmers of the country,” he said in a statement.

“I am recusing myself from the committee and I will always stand with my farmers and Punjab,” Mann added.

The apex court had on Tuesday stayed the implementation of the three central laws till further orders and announced the formation of a committee to hear the grievances of the farmers and the opinion of the government.

Apart from Mann, Shetkari Sanghatana (Maharashtra) president Anil Ghanwat, International Food Policy Research Institute’s Pramod Kumar Joshi and agriculture economist Ashok Gulati were appointed on the panel.

Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, have been camping at the border of Delhi for several weeks, demanding the repeal of the laws they say will lead to the weakening of the minimum support price (MSP) system.

The three contentious laws are the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020. — With PTI





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Farm protests: Agriculture Minister Tomar says informal talks on, hoping to reach solution before year ends


New Delhi, December 18

The government is hopeful of resolving farmers’ agitation against three new farm laws before the new year and is continuing its informal dialogue with various groups to defuse the crisis, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar has said amid formal talks remaining deadlocked with protesting unions refusing to accept anything less than the repeal of the Acts.

The minister said the Modi government is committed to addressing all genuine concerns of the farming community and it is willing to resume formal talks anytime, but asserted that there was no point talking to those “shooting from peasants’ shoulders”.

He put the blame on opposition parties for misleading the farmers and accused them of changing their stance on the reform process and politicising the issue.

In an interview with PTI, Tomar—who is leading the negotiation with about 40 farmer unions along with Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash—asserted that the three new farm laws are beneficial for farmers and the government is ready to give a written assurance that the minimum support price (MSP) and mandi system will continue.

Thousands of farmers, especially from Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting at Delhi borders for more than three weeks. At least five rounds of formal talks have been held between the three Union Ministers and 40 farmer unions to break the deadlock, but the unions are demanding complete rollback of the central laws.

“We have constantly been holding discussions with farmers’ unions… Overall, our effort is to reach a solution through dialogue with them. We are still open for talks. We are holding discussions with unions. I hope through dialogue we can move towards reaching a solution,” Tomar said while replying to a query about the stalemate and way forward.

“Informal talks are going on. I am hopeful of some way out,” he added.

Whether the Supreme Court constituted committee will take over talks and find a solution or the government will continue its efforts, Tomar said the government has kept its door open for negotiations with farm leaders and would wait for the Supreme Court’s order for the next course of action.

 “The matter is sub-judice. After the court’s order, we will study and take a call… We will wait for the court’s direction.”      

Farmer unions, who are concerned about peasants, should raise problems of the farming community so that the government can find a solution, the minister said and asked unions not to stress upon repealing these legislations which have been enacted for the benefit of farmers.

On farmers’ unions asking the government not to hold “parallel talks” with other groups and “malign” the protesting farmers, he said, “Farm leaders, who are concerned about the welfare of farmers, should discuss peasants’ problems.”

“Why should it matter if the acts are repealed or not,” he asked.

The government can consider changes to the laws if they convince successfully the clause by clause objections, he said.

When asked on his recent remark that he would engage with “genuine” farm leaders, the minister said: “When I say genuine, I mean those who are really concerned about farmers. There is no point talking with those who want to shoot from the shoulders of farmers”.

The government is there to resolve the farmers’ problems but unless the specific problems are not told, how can the government offer solutions, he said.

Asked how the government plans to give minimum support price assurance, Tomar said: “We will give in writing that till date the way MSP was continuing will continue in future as well. No one should have doubt on this”.

The MSP system is an administrative decision and there cannot be a law for everything, he said.

“To run the entire country, there are laws. Under laws, there are rules. There are also administrative decisions. Can there be doubt on the government’s decisions? Till date, MSP was in operation. Was it under any law?” he added.

Noting that when intentions are right, solutions will definitely emerge, Tomar said the Modi government has enacted the three farm laws with clear intention and the outcome will also be good.

Asked if the farmers’ issue will be resolved before 2020, he said: “Yes. I have full hope… Everyone has their own agenda. My agenda is ‘Kisan’. Tell me which provision of the farm laws are hurting farmers and convince me. We are ready for discussion”.

Several protesting leaders have threatened to step up their agitation and have said they are prepared to celebrate the Republic Day next year with their own tractor rally on Delhi borders.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be the Chief Guest at the Republic Day function at Rajpath in the national capital on January 26, 2021.

On Akali Dal’s charge that was real ‘Tukde-Tukde gang’ and wanted to divide Hindu-Muslim and now Hindu-Sikh, he said: “The political parties should not do politics in the name of farmers. These are the same parties which supported these reforms during elections”.

 “In the Congress election manifesto for the 2019 general election, in Punjab’s assembly poll manifesto, be it Congress, Akali Dal or AAP, all have talked about reforms. Now they are changing their stand,” he said.

Asked if the protest is anti-Modi or there are genuine concerns of farmers with the laws, Tomar said: “In the protest, there are farmers. As agriculture minister, I am looking at them as farmers. We are holding discussions from an agricultural point of view. My effort is to speak to farmers’ leaders so that we are able to resolve their problems”.

In the previous five rounds of talks, he said the government asked the unions’ leaders to share their objections on provisions of the acts, but they could not share clause by clause concerns and therefore the Centre sent a draft proposal suggesting few amendments.

On Thursday, Tomar wrote an eight-page open letter to farmers, accusing the Congress and other opposition parties of spreading falsehood about the new farm laws. He appealed to the agitating farmers not to fall prey to these “white lies” and said the Centre was ready to address all their concerns. — PTI





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Tomar pens open letter to farmers; CIFA writes to CJI seeking permission to submit views


Vibha Sharma

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 17

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Thursday wrote an eight-page open letter to farmers, reiterating benefits of the three Farm Acts while cautioning them against those trying to mislead them, urging them “with folded hands” to consider the facts without any outside influence. 

Tomar said the government is ready to give a written assurance on MSP and address their concerns in the three laws. Stating that most of the farmers are happy with the new farm bills, he said confusion has been created by a certain section as part of a conspiracy. Tomar also said as someone belonging to a farmer’s family he is well aware of the hardships they face as farmers.

This on a day the Supreme Court asked the Centre if it was ready to defer implementation of the three laws that have led to the massive protests by farmers. Tomar’s letter followed a meeting by the BJP’s top brass, apparently to discuss the future course of action amid growing negative perceptions as agitating farmers brave cold, hostile conditions on Delhi borders.

Apparently, the SC indication for setting up a committee with experts, representatives of the government and farmers’ bodies on board to resolve the deadlock is something that may be suitable for the government which is clear that neither repeal nor legislating on the MSP is an option. While the government is offering concessions, protesters outside its doors at the Delhi borders is a situation it will like to end soon. As part of the outreach, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to address farmers in Madhya Pradesh tomorrow. 

So far as SC’s observations today go BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi said: “I am not aware of these exact observations so I will not comment.  I will only say that so far as the Centre is concerned it had made wide discussions across the country. Anyone in the country who has anything to say is always welcome and the Centre will always welcome any steps for an open and transparent consultation.”

Meanwhile, P Chengal Reddy of the Consortium of Indian Farmers Associations has written to the Chief Justice of India, requesting that “CIFA members and other farmers associations supporting farm reforms initiated by Sharad Joshi and included in Dr M.S. Swaminadan report” be allowed to submit their views before the Supreme Court.  

On the other hand, a group of leading economists appealed to the government “to withdraw the Acts and hold extensive consultations with farmer organisations and other stakeholders on what measures would really bring equitable and sustainable benefit to the farmers and the economy”.





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10 economists write to Tomar, seek repeal of farm laws


Ruchika M. Khanna

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, December 17

As the stand-off between the agitating farmers and the BJP-led central government continued for the third week, top economists from some of the most reputed research institutions in the country, have raised serious concerns about the farm laws, and demanded their repeal.

Putting their weight firmly behind the agitating farmers, the economists — D Narsimha Reddy, Kamal Nayan Kabra, K N Harilal, Ranjit Singh Ghuman, Surinder Kumar, Arun Kumar, Rajinder Chaudhary, R Ramakumar, Vikas Rawal and Himanshu, have said these laws are not in best interests of small and marginal farmers, and demanded their revocation.

In a letter to the Agriculture Minister N S Tomar, these 10 economists have said while they believe that improvements and changes are required in the agricultural marketing system for the benefit of millions of small farmers, but the reforms brought by these Acts do not serve that purpose. “They are based on wrong assumptions and claims about why farmers are unable to get remunerative prices, about farmers not having freedom to sell wherever they like under the previously existing laws, and about regulated markets not being in the farmers’ interests,” the economists said.

They have come up five reasons on why these three Acts, brought in as a package by the government, are fundamentally harmful in their implications for the small farmers of India. “These undermine the role of the state government in regulating agriculture markets, when more than 20 states have already amended their APMC Acts to allow private mandis, e trading, e NAM etc. Secondly, two different markets — existing mandis and the private (unregulated) mandis that are proposed under the new laws — will have two different sets of rules. If collusion and market manipulation are concerns inside the APMC markets, the same collusion and market manipulation are likely to continue in the unregulated market space. Within the regulated APMC markets, there exist mechanisms to address and prevent such market manipulation, whereas in the unregulated ‘trade areas’, the central Act contemplates no such mechanisms,” they have said.

They have warned that even before these Acts came, a large percentage of the sale of agricultural commodities happened outside the APMC regulated market yards. However, the APMC market yards still set the benchmark prices through the daily auctions and offered some reliable price signals to the farmers. Without these price signals, the fragmented markets could pave the way for local monopsonies. The experience in Bihar since the removal of its APMC Act in 2006 shows that farmers have less choice of buyers and less bargaining power, resulting in significantly lower prices compared to other states.

The 10 economists have also raised the issue of the huge asymmetry between the two parties, small farmers and companies, in the Contract Farming law, which is not addressed to provide adequate protection to the interests of the farmers. Besides, concern about domination by big agri-businesses is also worrisome, they have said. 





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Tomar meets farmers ‘supporting agri laws’; says govt’s ‘intention and policy’ clear


Vibha Sharma

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 15

Amid intensifying resistance to the three Central Farm Acts, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on met farmer  leaders from different states, including Telangana, Maharashtra, Haryana, Tamil Nadu and Bihar, who not only supported the legislations — calling them pro-farmer and urging the government to not repeal them, but also termed the “agitation by Punjab farmers politically motivated”.

Tomar later said members of the All India Kisan Coordination Committee called the “laws completely in favour of farmers and urged that they should not be taken back at any cost. They also said the protests by Punjab farmers are completely politically motivated”. He said “intention and policy of the government is clear and farmers are already benefiting from pro-farmer reforms which will help in increasing the income of farmers. The Government is always ready to engage in dialogue”.

While farmer unions from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and other parts are supporting, the movement is facing some issues. Apart from allegations of “Khalistan, Ultra-Left and pro-Left Wing extremist elements “hijacking the farmers’ movement” — charges that unions and ‘jathebandis’ reject vehemently), some are also pointing towards “symbols and undertones of a particular religion overtaking protest sites”. ‘Jathebandi’ leaders hit back saying “BJP’s mindset is such it cannot understand secular issues”.

Now that it is almost clear that laws will not be repealed, it is also becoming increasingly evident that the government is fighting back constructing evidence in favour of the laws through the same section that is opposing the laws. 

This is not the first time favourable unions have extended support on the three laws. Earlier, unions from Haryana called on Tomar, threatening to protest if the pro-farmer laws are repealed.

An official statement said farmers’ representatives expressed “gratitude to the government for enacting the Acts and urged it to give in to the demands of agitating farmers”, rather “educate” them on their benefits through advertisements and training programmes.

“They will benefit farmers across India and save them from the clutches of middlemen who exploited them for years. They said the laws will give them freedom of choice in sale and purchase and allow barrier-free trade and commerce outside the APMC. They will enable farmers to access modern technology, better seeds and inputs, besides attracting private investment into the agriculture sector,” it said quoting farmers.

The 7,000 NGOs under the umbrella of the All India Kisan Coordination Committee will all rise up to support the Acts, it added.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and union ministers from Punjab, Hardeep Puri and Som Prakash, also held meetings on the issue. Reaching out to farmers, Rajnath Singh also said the government is always willing to listen to farmers and open for dialogue. However, so far there is no breakthrough regarding the next meeting between the government and warring factions.

BJP leaders said “people across the country have given their verdict in favour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and decisions of his government”. Citing recent wins, party spokesperson Sambit Patra said BJP’s spate of victories in elections across the country would not have been possible without the “help of farmers and the poor”. Slamming Opposition — Congress and AAP, for “their duplicity and misleading farmers”, he said the BJP will dismantle their claim scientifically.

 





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Farmers’ protest: Tomar, Som Prakash hold discussions with Amit Shah


Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, December 14

Amidst intensifying protests by farmers on the three central farm laws, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Minister of State for Commerce and Industry Som Prakash on Sunday met Home Minister Amit Shah regarding the issue. 

BJP leaders from Punjab were also present at the meeting where the home minister is also believed to have discussed the “ground situation in Punjab” in the wake of members of the Khalistani separatists desecrating the statue of Mahatma Gandhi during a protest organised by Sikh-American youths in the US and allegations of “Khalistan, Ultra-Left and pro-Left Wing extremist elements hijacking the farmers’ movement” — charges that farmers’ unions and ‘jathebandis’ reject vehemently.

The unions at the Singhu border also washed their hands off VM Singh of the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh, who yesterday said farmers are ready for talks with the Centre.

Meanwhile, Union minister from Punjab, Som Prakash, said the government’s “doors are always open to farmers for discussions” and that it offered to amend the laws even though they are correct” in order to resolve the issue.

Following the meeting with the home minister, Som Prakash also said that several ‘jathebandis’ had agreed to the government’s offer of amendments in the December 3 meeting. 

“We told them it is not possible to repeal the acts but they came back again saying the same thing that they want a complete rollback or nothing. It seems they are under some influence….Many leaders told us (ministers) that if the offer (of amendments) had been made earlier something could have been done. However, what will we (leaders) now tell those who have assembled at our call,” he said, adding that it seems the matter is “out of their (leaders) hands and some wrong elements have crept in the movement”.  

“We are always ready for talks. They need to drop their ‘zid’ (obstinate/stubborn attitude) and come for discussions for the benefit of farmers, Punjab and the country. The entire government is trying hard to resolve the issue. If the government adopts an adamant attitude that too is wrong but here we have agreed for amendments even though we know that our laws are correct,” he said. 

Meanwhile, unions, which elaborated their plan for tomorrow and rejected all the allegations of the movement being “hijacked” said they “want talks but demands of  farmer organisations for repeal of three anti-farmer acts and legal guarantee of minimum support price is non-negotiable.

“Any attempt to hold parallel negotiations with the government amounts to sabotaging the historic movement,” they said, adding that they are taking due care to guard the movement against outsiders”.





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Farmer group in support of new agri laws meets Tomar, threatens to protest if repealed


New Delhi, December 12

Amid an ongoing protest against three farm laws, a delegation of 29 farmers from Haryana met Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Saturday to extend their support to the new legislations and threatened to stage a protest if those are repealed.

The delegation, led by Bharatiya Kisan Union’s (Mann) Haryana state leader Guni Prakash, submitted a “letter of support” to Tomar on the farm laws passed by Parliament in September and demanded the government to continue with these legislations.

“We will also protest if the government repeals the laws. We have given a memorandum to all districts,” Prakash told reporters after the meeting.

He also sought to know why the previous government did not implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission till 2014.

“Everyone has a right to protest. They have, so do we. We are in support of the three laws, but this protest is being led by Leftists and those who are violent,” he said.

Claiming that the ongoing farmers’ agitation is no longer a peasant movement, the BKU leader said, “It has taken a political colour. Farmers will get real freedom through these three laws.”

This was the second group of farmers from Haryana that met Tomar and extended support to the farm laws. The first group had met the minister on December 7.

No breakthrough has been achieved during the six rounds of talks between the Centre and the agitating farmers so far, as the farmers have stuck to their demand for a repeal of the laws, despite the government sending them a draft proposal to amend specific issues without abolishing the legislations.

The three laws have been presented by the government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove the middlemen and allow farmers to sell their produce anywhere in the country.

However, the protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of Minimum Support Price (MSP) and scrap the mandis (wholesale markets), leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.

The Centre has maintained that the MSP and the mandi system would continue and would rather be improved and strengthened further. — PTI





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Clash at ‘mahapanchayat’ to demand ‘justice’ for Nikita Tomar in Ballabhgarh


Tribune News Service
Faridabad, November 1

Two groups clashed at a ‘mahapanchayat’ organized to demand ‘justice’ for Nikita Tomar, a 21-year-old student who was shot dead outside her college last week, at a Dussehra ground in Haryana’s Ballabhgarh on Sunday.

Police had to use force to remove over 500 men who resorted to blocking the National Highway.

Some men tried to hurl a shoe at the Congress MLA from NIT Assembly Segment, Neeraj Sharma, at the venue of the Mahapanchayat, organized by various social and sectarian associations, to demand justice for Tomar.

Three persons, including the main accused Tausif, have been arrested. Tausif killed Tomar after she turned down his offer to marry her and refused to convert to Islam.

The protestors raised slogans to seek death penalty for the accused.

“The police used force to remove a group of persons who attempted to block the highway and tried to resort to violence,” said DCP Ballabgarh, Sumer Singh.





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Rajnath Singh, Tomar hold talks with farmer leaders


Vibha Sharma

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 7

Amid the ongoing agitation against the three agriculture Acts, the government is touching base with leading farmer representatives to put forth its point of view. Union ministers Rajnath Singh and Narendra Singh Tomar on Tuesday interacted with farmer leaders.

The meeting was moderated by Chairman of the Indian Chamber of Food and Agriculture MJ Khan. One of the key concerns expressed by them was that the MSP will go and their key demand was that there should be a law against purchase below the MSP. They wanted the two demands to be factored into the legislations, according to an official statement.

Responding to issue regarding making purchase below the MSP a punishable offence, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh however said it will hamper the functioning of the market and adversely affect the farmers. “If the quality of grains is not good the buyer will turn him back. But today the farmer is at least able to sell on negotiated price,” Singh was quoted as saying.

He added that “there is no reason for apprehension on this account and the MSP was never part of legislation”. Tomar added that the Centre has declared MSP after these legislations and the procurement is being done accordingly, hence there should be no confusion.

According to the statement, five Padma Shri awardees participated in the meeting along with five other leading farmer leaders. “All farmer leaders expressed confidence” that the legislations will be helpful to farmers and provide extra options as the current ‘mandi’ system is not adequate to serve them.

“In fact less than 20% farmers are able to access the current system of procurement by the mandi system and local traders. The current system is cumbersome and exploitative and as organised sector gets into the agri market, farmers will get more options to choose,” Padma Shri Kamal Singh Chauhan was quoted as saying. He was backed by Ram Saran and BB Tyagi from UP, Narendra Singh from Haryana and Jagdish Pareek from Rajasthan

Pushpender Singh, president, Kisan Shakti Sangh; Harpal Singh Grewal, Organic Movement; Man Singh Yadav, Chairman, Agri Board; and Bijendra Singh Dalal, president, Haryana Pragatisheel Kisan Manch also expressed confidence in the long term benefits of these legislations. They also hoped that farmer industry partnerships will actually benefit the farmers. Pushpender Singh, however, suggested that sale-purchase of MSP crops below the support price be made cognisable offence.

Agriculture Minister Tomar listed down benefits of the legislations in terms of private sector participation in procurements and partnerships for investments in infrastructure development, logistics, supply chain, processing, agribusinesses and trade, as per the statement.





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