The Indian government has told protesting farm unions it "cannot and will not repeal" three contentious agricultural laws during the eighth round of talks which took place on Friday at the national capital's Vigyan Bhavan, a farm leader told HT, deepening a stalemate between the two sides. The next round of talks is now slated to take place on January 15.
Tens of thousands of farmers are on protest for over a month, demanding the government scraps its pro-reform farm laws approved by parliament in September.
"The government has said it cannot and will not repeal the laws," said Kavitha Kuruganti, a farm leader who was present at the talks.
The first session of the talks, which ended a short while ago, saw the farmers hardening their stand, who said they were interested only in a repeal of the laws.
According to Kuruganti, farm leaders raised slogans inside the meet to make their stand clear, "We will either die or win."
Three Union ministers — Narendra Tomar, Piyush Goyal and Som Parkash - who are representing the Centre had met Union home minister Amit Shah before heading into the talks.
Farm minister Narendra Tomar, opening the negotiations, said that the three federal laws to open up agricultural markets apply to the whole of the country and many farmer organisations support the laws.
"The government said it couldn't repeal the laws and is ready to discuss anything farmers find objectionable," Balbir Singh Rajewal, a farm leader, told HT from inside the venue.
Rajewal, who opened the negotiations from the farmers' side, said the farmers won't give up their agitation unless the laws are repealed.
The farmers raised the issue of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders from Punjab calling protesting farm leaders names and branding them Khalistanis, a reference to the Sikh separatist movement.
"We told the government that this is highly objectionable. On one hand, the government is negotiating with farmers, while the ruling party's leaders are trying to tarnish our movement all the time," Rajewal said.
During a tea break amid talks, the three ministers sat in a separate adjacent room to discuss among themselves.
The seventh round of talks, held on January 4, had ended in a stalemate too. While the farmers pressed the government to repeal the three agricultural laws, farm minister Narendra Singh Tomar said it was not possible to commit to a repeal.
In the previous round of talks, held on December 30, the government agreed to two demands of the farmers. One, the government had agreed not to pay direct cash to farmers instead of power subsidy for agricultural use, which the farmers argue would increase power costs for them. Two, the government had agreed to keep farmers out of the ambit of an anti-pollution law that prescribes harsh penalties for crop-residue burning.
Farmers are demanding a repeal of three pro-reforms laws as well as a legal guarantee for federally fixed minimum support prices.
The laws remove restrictions on the purchase and sale of farm produce, lift constraints on stockpiling under the 1955 Essential Commodities Act, and enable contract farming based on written agreements.