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Farmers protest on as meet with Union ministers inconclusive; govt still hopeful

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Farmers' tractos and trolleys parked ahead of their scheduled march towards Delhi, in Fatehgarh Sahib, Monday, Feb. 12, 2024.

Farmers' tractos and trolleys parked ahead of their scheduled march towards Delhi, in Fatehgarh Sahib, Monday, Feb. 12, 2024.

Chandigarh: Farmers are set to begin their 'Delhi Chalo' march Tuesday morning, a farmer leader asserted here after their five-hour-long meeting with two Union ministers over their demands remained inconclusive.

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However, Union Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda, who along with Food and Consumer Affairs Minister Piyush Goyal attended the second round of talks with the farmer leaders, said a consensus was reached on most issues and a formula was proposed for resolving some others through the formation of a committee.

"We are still hopeful that farmer bodies will hold talks.... We will try to resolve issues in the coming days," he said.

The meeting began at the Mahatma Gandhi State Institute of Public Administration in Sector 26 at around 6.30 pm and concluded just before midnight.

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The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non-Political) and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha have announced that farmers will head to Delhi on Tuesday to press the Centre to accept their demands, including the enactment of a law to guarantee a minimum support price (MSP) for crops.

SKM (Non-Political) leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal and Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee general secretary Sarwan Singh Pandher, among others, were part of the meeting.

"We do not think the government is serious on any of our demands. We do not think they want to fulfil our demands.... Tomorrow, we will march towards Delhi at 10 am," Pandher told reporters here after the meeting ended just before midnight.

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In the meeting, the Centre is learnt to have agreed to withdraw the cases against the farmers registered during the 2020-21 agitation, sources said.

However, the sources said, farmer leaders were adamant on a legal guarantee to minimum support price for crops, which is one of their key demands.

After the meeting, Pandher said, "We held a long discussion with them and we discussed every issue.... Our effort was to avoid any confrontation. We wanted the issue to be resolved through dialogue with them. Had the government offered anything to us, then we could have reconsidered our agitation."

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He claimed that the government's intention was not clean. "It did not want to give anything to us.... We told them to take a decision. They did not take any decision on the farmers' demand of giving legal guarantee to the minimum support price," he said.

Whatever proposals the ministers have made will be discussed in "our forum", he said, adding, "Our agitation stands. Tomorrow, we will march towards Delhi at 10 am."

Addressing the media along with Goyal later, Union Minister Munda said the government always wants to resolve every issue through dialogue.

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"With this objective, we came here as representatives of the Government of India. We discussed every issue. We still feel that any issue can be resolved through dialogue. We are ready with an open mind," he said.

Replying to a question, Munda said that a consensus was reached on most issues.

"We moved forward on the basis of consensus. We gave the formula of resolving some issues through the formation of a committee," he said.

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SKM (Non-Political) leader Dallewal said the government wanted formation of a committee on the issues of giving legal guarantee to MSP, debt waiver and the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission's recommendations.

"We will apprise our farmers in a forum what happened in the meeting," said Dallewal.

"It is our compulsion to move towards Delhi," he said, while replying to a question on the 'Delhi Chalo' call.

Besides a legal guarantee for MSP, the farmers are also demanding the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission's recommendations, pensions for farmers and farm labourers, farm debt waiver, withdrawal of police cases and "justice" for victims of the Lakhimpur Kheri violence, reinstate the Land Acquisition Act 2013, withdrawal from the World Trade Organization, compensation for families of farmers died during the previous agitation, among others.

During the meeting, the delegation of the Centre is learnt to have agreed to withdraw the cases against the farmers registered during the 2020-21 agitation against the now-repealed farm laws, said the sources.

The Union ministers are also believed to have agreed to give compensation to any left-out families of farmers who died during the previous agitation.

Punjab Cabinet Minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal, who also attended the meeting, said the state government stood with the farmers.

Besides farmer leaders, Punjab government's senior officers including Chief Secretary Anurag Verma and Director General of Police Gaurav Yadav were also present in the meeting.

Earlier, the farmer leaders, who were participating in the talks in Chandigarh, held a meeting in Amb Sahib in Punjab's Mohali before leaving for the city.

The first meeting with the Union ministers was held on February 8 in which detailed discussions with the leaders of farmer organisations took place.

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