India’s protesting farmers, government hold ninth round of talks

Leaders of Indian farmers’ unions are holding another round of talks with the government in New Delhi in their latest bid to settle a dispute over a controversial set of new agriculture laws.

Friday’s is the ninth round of discussions over the long-running dispute without reaching any firm conclusions, as tens of thousands of farmers continue to camp on the outskirts of the capital city protesting for the repeal of the three laws passed in September.

Farmers say the legislation will lead to the cartelisation and commercialisation of agriculture, make farmers vulnerable to corporate greed and devastate their earnings.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has refused to withdraw the three contentious laws and said they will enable farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment.

The government would talk to farmers with an open mind, Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said.

Previous rounds of talks have so far failed to mollify the farmers, who have been occupying key highways around New Delhi in protest for nearly two months. Farmers say they will not leave until the government repeals what they call the “black laws”.

The protesting farmers have threatened to further intensify their agitation by marching to the heart of the capital city on January 26, when India celebrates its Republic Day.On December 30, the government and farmers reached a consensus on two issues – that the government would continue its subsidy of electricity for irrigating farms, and that farmers would not be punished for burning crop residues, a cause of air pollution. 

On Tuesday, India’s Supreme Court put an indefinite stay on the implementation of new agricultural laws and ordered the creation of an independent four-member committee of experts to negotiate with the farmers.

Raising doubts over the panel’s composition, farmer union leaders said they would not appear before the committee. The panel members have been in favour of the three laws, protesting farmers said.

Bhupinder Singh Mann, one of the four members, has recused himself from the Supreme Court-appointed panel.

“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,” Mann said in a statement, according to Indian media reports.

Mann comes from the northern state of Punjab, one of India’s breadbasket states, and Punjab’s politically influential farmers have been at the vanguard of the agitation against the three laws.

The main opposition Congress party said it will also organise protests at state capitals on Friday to support the farmers’ agitation.

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