After over a month, and five rounds of frosty talks, there was some conciliation and progress in resolving the stand-off, and a lot more bonhomie between the farmer unions and the government on Wednesday.
For the first time, there were some takeaways: a perceptible change in the gesture on the part of the government, and some positive outcome that opens more space for further discussion and a resolution.
If Defence Minister Rajnath Singh eulogised the Sikh community in general, and the farmers in particular in an interview to news agency ANI earlier Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, and his colleagues Piyush Goyal and Som Prakash shared langar food during lunch hours during the meeting.
There was ‘mutual consensus’ on two demands of farm unions raised in earlier rounds of talks — exclusion of farmers from the purview of the NCR air quality ordinance and changes in the provisions of the Draft Electricity Bill ensuring security on power subsidy.
These are not directly linked to the three farm laws, but had led to anxiety among farmers. The government and the farm unions agreed to discuss the two remaining items in the four-point agenda proposed by the farmers. These two relate to repeal of farm laws and legal guarantee for Minimum Support Price.
Rajnath Singh set the tone for the day well before the meeting started at 2.30 pm Wednesday. He disapproved the use of remarks like “Naxals”or “Khalistanis” made by some of his party and ministerial colleagues against the farmers. “Allegations should not be made by anyone against the Sikh community and farmers,” he said.
His colleagues Tomar, Goyal and Som Prakash, leading the government side in the talks, shared langar food brought for farmer leaders from the Gurudwara. The latter reciprocated and had chai-samosa served by the government. Earlier, farmers had refused to eat the lunch served by the government.
While the concessions agreed to the government may not be seen as substantive by farmers who were stuck on repeal of farm laws and hardwiring of the MSP in the law, Wednesday’s progress provided a ray of hope.
Section 14(1) of the air quality ordinance provides for imprisonment up to five years and fine up to Rs 1 crore or both for acts which contribute to pollution. Farmers feared this provision may be used against them for stubble burning. The government will have to amend the law to exempt farmers from the new law.
The second demand on which both sides have agreed is related to certain provisions of the draft Electricity Amendment Bill. The draft Bill seeks to amend Section 62 and Section 65 of the Electricity Act, 2003. The proposed provision states that the Appropriate Commission shall fix tariffs for retail sale of electricity without accounting for subsidy, which, if any, under section 65 of the Act, shall be provided by the government directly to the consumer. The Bill is at the draft stage so the proposed changes can be redrafted.
Speaking to the Indian Express, Sanyukt Kisan Morcha leader Darshan Pal said there was a “positive” discussion on the repeal of the three laws.
“The government gave several alternatives including forming a committee. But finally, they (the government side) asked us to suggest something, which should not have the word repeal, and on which both sides may come to an agreement. We told them that we will discuss in this regard and talk to our lawyer,” Pal told The Indian Express.
Bodh Singh Mansa, president, Bhartiya Kisan Union (Mansa), said the government had accepted two demands. “The government is seriously considering the other two issues. These will be resolved in the January 4 meeting,” he said.