The stalemate over the farmer protests continued as critical talks between three Union ministers and farmer groups remained inconclusive on Tuesday after they rejected the government's suggestion of a new committee to look into issues raised by farmers protesting against new farm laws, but both sides agreed to meet again on Thursday. The government, on its part, rejected the demand for repealing the laws and rather asked the farmers' bodies to identify specific issues related to the newly enacted Acts and submit those by Wednesday for consideration and discussion in the next round of talks on Thursday.
Farmer unions said protests will now intensify across the country until their demands are met. After the meeting, which was attended by 35 farm leaders and took place on the sixth day of large-scale protests by farmer groups at various borders of the national capital, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) said in a statement that the talks remained inconclusive and the government's proposal was not acceptable to the farm unions.
It said the farmer leaders rejected the government proposal to form a five-member committee to look into the objections and study the concerns, while asserting that such committees have led to no results in the past.
Enacted in September, the laws have been presented by the government as major reforms in the agriculture sector by removing the middlemen and allowing farmers to sell anywhere in the country.
However, the protesting farmers have been worried that the new laws will eliminate the safety cushion of a Minimum Support Price (MSP) and procurement system, while rendering ineffective the mandi system that ensures earnings for various stakeholders in the farm sector.
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, who led the talks from the government side, said they had a detailed discussion and the meeting will resume on December 3.
"We suggested to them to form a small committee, but they said they all will be present in the meeting. So, we agreed to that," Tomar told PTI after the meeting.
Sources said the ministers were of the view that it was difficult to reach a decision while interacting with such large groups and therefore they suggested meeting with a smaller group, but the farmer leaders were firm that they would meet collectively only.
Union leaders said they feared the government might be trying to break their unity and the momentum of their protest.
"The government asked us to give names of 5-7 members to form a small committee for better discussion, but we rejected it. We said we all will be present," BKU (Dakaunda) Bathinda District President Baldev Singh said.
"The government is insisting for a small group because they want to divide us. We are very well aware of the government's tricks," he alleged.
At the meeting, also attended by Railways and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash, who is an MP from Punjab, the farm leaders pressed for their demands around the repeal of three central farm acts and withdrawal of the Electricity Amendment Bill 2020.
However, another round of meeting got underway later in the evening at the Agriculture Ministry with representatives of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), where issues other than the three farm laws were also discussed.
This meeting began soon after the end of the first one with a much larger group at Vigyan Bhawan, where the farmer representatives were unanimous in seeking repeal of the three laws that they have been terming as being against the interest of the farm community.
The protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the Centre's farm laws would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.
The government has maintained that the new laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture.
After the meeting with BKU chief Rakesh Tikait and other union leaders, Tomar said they had sought time for a discussion.
"We had successful and detailed discussions with BKU. They discussed the laws as well as other farm issues. We have told them to submit in writing their concerns about the farm laws. We will look into them also," Tomar told reporters.
Tikait said, "We had a good discussion. Our demands are the same as that of other 35 farmer unions. The government will discuss again with us after two days."
About the Vigyan Bhawan meeting with 35 farmer unions, Tomar said, "We had a good discussion. We told kisan unions that it would be better to have a small group to discuss the laws clause by clause. But they wanted a discussion with all."
"The government has no problem with that. We were ready for discussion earlier, we are ready now and we will be ready in the future too. So on December 3, we will have the fourth round of talks," he said.
The previous meeting on November 13 had also remained inconclusive, while the farm leaders had walked out of the first meeting in October protesting against absence of any union minister.
The third meeting was originally scheduled for December 3, but it got advanced due to the ongoing protests on Delhi borders.
Hours before the meeting, Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah, Tomar and Goyal, along with BJP chief J P Nadda, had held marathon discussions over the farmers' protest against the Centre's new agriculture reform laws.
Asked why the government was holding a separate discussion with Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) chief Rakesh Tikait, Tomar said, "They have come to us, so we are discussing with them also. We are ready to discuss with all farmers.” Asked when the deadlock will end, he said, "Time will decide."
On the protesting farmers insisting on the repeal of all three farm laws, Tomar said, "We have asked them to come with specific issues in the laws and we are ready to discuss and address their concerns."
"If they have any specific issue with any clauses, let them point out. Let them put their views, we will look into them," he added.
Later in a statement, the Agriculture Ministry said it was assured at the meeting that the Centre is always committed to protecting the interest of farmers and is always open for discussions for farmers' welfare.