Indian govt, farmers fail to break impasse

2021-01-06 12:05:09

Farmers shell peas for a community kitchen as they block a major highway in a protest against new farm laws near New Delhi on Monday. ALTAF QADRI/ASSOCIATED PRESS Like fellow farmers camping outside India's capital New Delhi, the lone woman in talks with the government on Monday is not happy with the empty result. The only agreement was to meet again on Friday. "We only took up the repeal issue," said Kavitha Kuruganti, a representative of farmers protesting against new farm laws, which government delegates again refused to roll back. The failure to get a breakthrough extended the farmers' agitation against the three agricultural laws passed by the Indian government late last year to day 41 on Tuesday. The government side was represented by Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, and the junior minister for commerce and industry Som Prakash. The farmers were represented by various leaders from the 41 farmer unions. Tomar said after the meeting he remains hopeful of a solution in the next meeting and the government wanted a discussion on legislation to take the talks forward. Efforts need to be made from both sides for a solution to be reached, Tomar said, adding "both hands are needed to clap". Despite the coronavirus pandemic and bitter cold, thousands of farmers have been blockading highways connecting New Delhi to northern India since Nov 26, obstructing transportation and hurting manufacturing businesses among others. "We will not return home until the laws are repealed, said Rakesh Tikait, whose colleagues allege the government's "ego problem" is blocking progress on the talks. Communication failure Ashok Gulati, Infosys Chair professor for agriculture at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, said there is a gross communication failure on the part of the central government to explain to farmers what these laws are and how they are intended to benefit them. This communication gap was being exploited by some political parties, he added. Monday's meeting began with the attendees observing two minutes' silence to pay respect to the more than 50 protesters who have died over the course of the dispute. The government listed various benefits from the three laws and market practices. Farmer representatives said the laws will lead to the cartelization and commercialization of agriculture and make farmers vulnerable to corporate greed. The farmers have threatened to hold a rally on Jan 26 when India celebrates Republic Day if their demands are not met. Although some politicians appealed to the central government to accept all demands of the protesting farmers, Prof H.S. Shergill, an agriculture economist of the Institute of Development Studies, Chandigarh, said a solution should be face-saving for both sides. The government can announce a suspension in implementation of the laws until the concerns of the farmers are adequately resolved, he suggested. In their previous meeting on Dec 30, the two sides 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. The writer is a freelance journalist for China Daily. Agencies and Xinhua contributed to this story.