Saturday, March 6

3 union ministers, 40 farm leaders in huddle over Central farm acts

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Three Union ministers — Narendra Singh Tomar, Piyush Goyal and Som Prakash — and 40 farm leaders on Wednesday afternoon started the sixth round of talks on a clutch of demands by farm unions, including repeal of three agricultural laws, at Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan.

According to an official, farm minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government is open to negotiations and suggested that, if everyone agreed, the talks could take up the easier issues first

The official said railway minister Goyal and Tomar held two meetings with home minister Amit Shah before heading to the meeting’s venue.

The first issue farmers want discussions on were the “modalities (that are) to be adopted for the repeal of the three Central Farm Acts”.

Second, the unions want “mechanisms to be adopted to make remunerative support prices recommended by the National Farmers’ Commission into a legally guaranteed entitlement for all farmers and all agricultural commodities.”

The farmers also want amendments in an ordinance to completely exclude farmers from any penalties for crop-residue burning, a major cause of pollution.

Their last demand is continuation of subsidised power for agricultural use, instead of a proposed switch to direct cash, which farmers say will increase power costs for them.

The laws essentially change the way India’s farmers do business by creating free markets, as opposed to a network of decades-old, government marketplaces, allowing traders to stockpile essential commodities for future sales and laying down a national framework for contract farming.

Together, the laws will allow big corporations and global supermarket chains to buy directly from farmers, bypassing decades-old regulations.

Farmers say the reforms would make them vulnerable to exploitation by big corporations and erode the government’s procurement system, whereby the government buys staples, such as wheat and rice, at guaranteed rates, known as minimum support prices (MSP).