Changes to new laws on minimum guaranteed prices for farmers, a key trigger for their massive protests near Delhi, are likely to be discussed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet today.
Sources say the government is discussing various formulae before taking a decision. One of the formulations being suggested is to exempt states from the farm bills, including exempting Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, and also assuring that the Minimum Support Prices mechanism will continue.
Though an MSP ordinance is not officially on the agenda for today’s cabinet, senior government officials are not ruling it out, given the gravity of the protests on highways near Delhi in the rising winter chill.
So far, the farmers have rejected the government’s offer to make amendments to the three new laws enacted in September. They want the laws scrapped altogether and say mere assurances on MSP will not do.
The farmers believe the laws will deprive them of their earnings by doing away with the MSP, or the minimum state-set prices at which the government buys from them, and leave them vulnerable to corporates. The government says the laws will bring about much-needed reforms in the farm sector that will help farmers improve their income by doing away with middlemen and selling produce anywhere in the country.
Yesterday, farmer leaders said they would “make” the Centre repeal the laws, reflecting a hardening of their stand on a day Prime Minister Narendra Modi alleged an opposition conspiracy to “confuse” and mislead farmers.
“I want to reiterate that my government is ready 24 hours to resolve all your doubts,” he said, appealing to farmers, at a public gathering in Gujarat.
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government was willing to talk to “genuine farm unions” to find a solution with an open mind.
He has been speaking separately to various unions. Yesterday, the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Kisan), based in a part of UP, said they were ready to end their protests.
Mr Tomar said after meeting them that MSP was “an administrative decision and it will continue as it is”.
Sources say the separate talks are part of a strategy to weaken the protests by bringing out cracks in their unity and the difference between what various farmer bodies want.
Five meetings have taken place between the protesting farmers and the government. Union home minister Amit Shah also met the farmers.
The Supreme Court hears many petitions on the farmer protests today. One petition wants the protesters to be removed to a designated place in view of the coronavirus outbreak. Another seeks the court’s direction to the Centre to consider the farmers’ demands. It also wants the National Human Rights Commission to investigate if there was any any police assault on the farmers. A third petition wants the top court to allow the farmers enter Delhi and protest at Jantar Mantar.