NEW DELHI: The government's negotiations with protesting farm unions hit a roadblock on Friday as the farmer leaders stuck to their demands for a complete repeal of three farm laws they find pro-corporate and a legal guarantee for MSP, even as the Centre asked them to reconsider its proposal for putting the Acts on hold for 12-18 months.
Unlike the last 10 rounds of talks, the 11th round could not even reach a decision on the next date for the meeting as the government also hardened its position saying it is ready to meet again once the unions agree to discuss the suspension proposal.
This followed a big climbdown made by the Centre during the last round when they offered to suspend the laws and form a joint committee to find solutions. Farmer leaders said they will intensify their agitation now and alleged that the government's approach was not right during the meeting.
They also said their tractor rally will go ahead as per the plans on January 26 and unions have told the police that it is the government's responsibility to maintain peace. While the meeting lasted for almost five hours, the two sides sat face to face for less than 30 minutes.
In the very beginning, the farmer leaders informed the government that they have decided to reject the proposal made by the government in the last round of talks on Wednesday. The three central ministers, including Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, urged the union representatives to reconsider their stand, after which the two sides went for a lunch break.
The break, during which the farmer leaders had their langar (community kitchen) food, lasted for more than three hours and also saw the 41 farmer leaders holding consultations among themselves, at times in smaller groups, while the three central ministers waited in a separate room at Vigyan Bhawan.
After the meeting, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) leader Joginder Singh Ugrahan said the discussions have broken down as the unions rejected the government's proposal.
Another farmer leader Rakesh Tikait said the ministers said the suspension period can be increased to up to 2 years, but the unions remained firm on their demand for a complete repeal and a legal guarantee for Minimum Support Price mechanism for procurement of crops.
The ministers told the unions that they have been given all possible options and they must discuss internally the proposal of suspending the laws. Tomar told the farmer leaders that the government would be ready for another meeting if farmers want to discuss the proposal, sources said.
The minister also thanked unions for their cooperation and said while there were no problems with the laws, the government offered to suspend them as respect for the protesting farmers. Coming out of the meeting venue, farmer leader Shiv Kumar Kakka said there was no headway in the discussions and the government asked unions to deliberate on its proposal again.
Kakka was the first to leave the meeting, but said it was for "some personal reasons". In the last round of meetings held on Wednesday, the government had offered to put on hold the three laws and set up a joint committee to find solutions.
However, after internal consultations on Thursday, the farmer unions decided to reject the offer and stick to their two major demands -- the repeal of the three laws and a legal guarantee of the minimum support price (MSP).
"We told the government that we will not agree to anything other than the repeal of the laws. But the minister asked us to discuss separately again and rethink the matter and convey the decision," farmer leader Darshan Pal told PTI.
BKU's Tikait said: "We conveyed our position clearly to the government that we want a repeal of the laws and not a suspension. The ministers asked us to reconsider our decision." Some leaders expressed apprehensions that the movement will lose its momentum once the farmers go away from Delhi borders.
Harpal Singh, President of Bhartiya Kisan Union -- Asli Arajnaitik (Real Apolitical), said, "Even if we accept the government's offer, our fellow brothers sitting at Delhi borders will not accept anything other than a repeal of the laws. They will not spare us. What achievement will we show to them?"
He also questioned the government's credibility, alleging it was difficult to believe that they will keep their word on putting the laws on hold for 18 months. "We will die here but we will not return without getting the laws repealed," Singh said.
Along with Union Agriculture Minister Tomar, Railways, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash are also participating in the talks with representatives of 41 farmer unions at the Vigyan Bhawan here.
In a full general body meeting on Thursday, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of the protesting unions, rejected the government's proposal. "A full repeal of three central farm Acts and enacting a legislation for remunerative MSP for all farmers were reiterated as the pending demands of the movement," the Morcha said in a statement.
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, are protesting at various border points of Delhi for over a month now against the three laws.
Farmer groups have alleged these laws will end the mandi and MSP procurement systems and leave the farmers at the mercy of big corporates, even as the government has rejected these apprehensions as misplaced.
On January 11, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the three laws till further orders and appointed a four-member panel to resolve the impasse. Bhartiya Kisan Union president Bhupinder Singh Mann had recused himself from the committee appointed by the apex court.
Shetkari Sanghatana (Maharashtra) president Anil Ghanwat and agriculture economists Pramod Kumar Joshi and Ashok Gulati, the other three members on the panel, started the consultation process with stakeholders on Thursday.