The unions said the minimum support price (MSP) cannot be separated from the demand of repealing the contentious agriculture laws, asserting that the issue of a legal guarantee for the MSP is a key part of their agitation.
The Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of 40 farmer unions protesting at three border points of Delhi — Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur — for the last 27 days, is likely to hold a meeting on Friday to discuss the Centre’s letter and respond to it formally.
Earlier in the day, Joint Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Vivek Aggarwal wrote to the protesting unions and invited them for fresh talks, but made it clear that it would not be “logical” to include in the agenda any new demand related to the MSP, which is out of the purview of the three new farm laws.
The government’s letter comes a day after the morcha asked it not to repeat the proposal of “meaningless” amendments that they have already rejected but to come up with a “concrete offer” in writing for the resumption of talks.
“The government is not serious about our demands and they are writing letters every day. The new letter is nothing but a propaganda being created by the government against us to give an impression that we are not interested in holding talks.
“The government should bring the repeal of the three farm laws in the agenda for a fresh round of dialogue,” senior morcha leader Shiv Kumar Kakka told PTI.
He said a legal guarantee of the MSP is an important part of the farmers’ demands, which cannot be neglected by the government.
In his letter to the 40 farm unions, Aggarwal said, “I again request you that the government has been discussing all issues with an open heart and good intentions to end the protest, and will continue to do so. Kindly suggest a date and time (for the next round of talks).”
Another farmer leader, Lakhvir Singh, said the government’s letter to the unions does not have any new proposal.
“They (government) can say that the laws will not affect the MSP, but the fact is that if the FCI (Food Corporation of India) is not there in the market, who will buy our crops at the MSP?
“Even today, of the 23 crops that come under the ambit of the MSP, only wheat and rice, and sometimes cotton is bought at the MSP,” Singh, the vice president of the All India Kisan Sabha (Punjab), claimed.
Avtar Singh Mehma, press secretary, Krantikari Kisan Union, said the Centre can keep claiming that the laws will not affect the MSP system, but farmers want an MSP guarantee act that will ensure that their crop is sold at the minimum support price.
“The Sanyukt Kisan Morcha will meet on Friday to discuss the government’s letter and then respond to it,” he said.
Five rounds of talks between the government and the unions have failed to break the deadlock, with the farmers insisting on a repeal of the three laws and camping at various border points of the national capital for nearly a month now.
Aggarwal asked the unions to provide details of the other issues they want to discuss. The talks will be held at the Vigyan Bhawan here at a ministerial level, he said.
On the MSP, the official said the farm laws have no connection with the price regime nor would have any impact on the procurement of farm produce at the fixed rates.
This has been told to the unions in every discussion and it has also been made clear that the government is ready to give a written assurance on the MSP, he said.
Enacted in September, the three farm laws have been projected by the Centre as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove the middlemen and allow farmers to sell their produce anywhere in the country.
However, the protesting farmers have expressed the apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of the MSP and do away with the “mandi” (wholesale market) system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.