The Indian government may consider concessions to divisive agriculture reforms, the country's agriculture minister said on Thursday, but farmers insist the laws must be repealed and pledge to intensify protest.
Minister Narendra Singh Tomar urged union leaders to discuss new proposals.
“The government is ready to consider with an open mind any provision in the new laws where farmers have any issues,” Tomar said. “We kept waiting for suggestions from farmers’ leaders to address their concerns, but they are stuck on the repeal of laws.”
Thousands of farmers have been protesting on the borders of the capital New Delhi for nearly two weeks, demanding the repeal of the reforms they fear will end the purchase of grains at guaranteed prices and give private buyers the upper hand.
Tomar also said the government is “concerned about the farmers protesting in cold weather and during the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic.”
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On Wednesday, the government went as far as to propose a written assurance that the existing procurement scheme, called Minimum Support Price, will continue. The unions said they will only accept a complete repeal of the three laws that increase the role of private trade.
Moreover, the unions plan to intensify their protests across India by boycotting legislators and blocking national highways.
“We reject the government’s proposals,” Darshan Pal of Krantikari Kisan Union was quoted by the Times of India as saying. “We will intensify our agitation now. A call has been given to farmers in states near Delhi.”
The situation would have been different if the government had discussed the draft laws with unions before passing them to parliament, another union member argued.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government claims the new laws will help India to get rid of old procurement schemes, free farmers from restrictions on the sale of their produce and end the monopoly of traders.
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