Leaders of Indian farmers’ unions have agreed to meet federal ministers on Tuesday, possibly paving the way for the seventh round of talks with the government which has so far failed to mollify growers who say three new agricultural laws threaten their livelihoods.
Worried over farmers’ round-the-clock sit-ins on the outskirts of New Delhi, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on Thursday invited protest leaders to further talks.
Farmers’ unions still insist they want the laws repealed, a coalition of unions called Samyukta Kisan Morcha said on Saturday in a letter to the agriculture ministry.
“We have decided to hold talks and are giving a proposal. Our proposal is that talks between representatives of farmers and the central government be held on December 29 at 11am,” said Yogendra Yadav of the Swaraj India organisation.
While reading out the letter sent to the government, Yadav said the first item on the agenda of the meeting should be the modalities of repealing the three laws, which came into force in September.
The government says the laws will unshackle farmers from having to sell their produce only at regulated wholesale markets. It argues farmers will gain if large traders, retailers and food processors can buy directly from producers, bypassing antiquated wholesale markets.
But tens of thousands of farmers have camped out on national highways demanding the government withdraw the laws that they fear will eventually dismantle regulated markets and stop the government buying rice and wheat at guaranteed prices.
Farmers’ leaders would also in Tuesday’s meeting oppose plans to impose stiff penalties for the burning of crop stubble, a key source of air pollution, according to the farmers’ letter, seen by Reuters news agency.
Modi has dismissed the farmers’ protests as motivated by his political opponents, while the main opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi has accused the prime minister of introducing the laws to help a few business people.
Local media reported on Saturday that Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) lost one of its allies, the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party, as its chief joined the farmers in the ongoing protest.
Darshan Pal, another farmer leader, said the protesting farmers will hold a “tractor march” from the Singhu border on the outskirts of capital New Delhi on Wednesday.
“New year is coming. We are inviting the people of Delhi and the adjoining areas to come and celebrate their New Year on January 1, 2021, and have meals with us,” he said.
The Singhu border is New Delhi’s northern entrance from the Haryana state and is currently filled with tens of thousands of farmers.