Thousands of farmers dug in their heels at protest venues outside several Delhi gateways, undeterred by the biting cold and firm in their resolve to not return home till their demands are met, as the New Year dawned with the minimum temperature dipping to 1.1 degrees Celsius.
The government and the farm unions had reached some common ground on Wednesday to address the protesting farmers’ concerns over rise in power tariff and penalties for stubble burning, but the two sides remained deadlocked over the main contentious issues of the repeal of three farm laws and a legal guarantee for minimum support price (MSP).
After the sixth round of negotiations between three union ministers and a 41-member representative group of thousands of farmers protesting on Delhi borders, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had said at least 50 per cent resolution has been reached, with mutual agreement on two out of four items on the agenda and that discussions would continue on the remaining two on January 4.
Security remained tight at the national capital’s borders, with hundreds of personnel deployed at Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri border points, where the farmers have been camping for more than a month now, braving the severe Delhi winter.
The city recorded a minimum temperature of 1.1 degrees Celsius on Friday, the lowest in 15 years for the month of January.
Meanwhile, the Samkyukt Kisan Morcha is likely to meet during the day to discuss its next course of action. There is, however, no question of withdrawing from the two issues which are a legal guarantee for MSP and repeal of the farm laws, senior farmer leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni has said.
“The government has addressed our demands to drop penal provisions against farmers in an ordinance relating to stubble burning and to put on hold a proposed electricity amendment law,” he said.
“But, we want to make it clear that there is no alternative to our two remaining demands, which include repeal of the three agriculture laws and a legal guarantee for MSP,” Chaduni added.
The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, one of the protesting farm unions, has issued a statement saying the Centre’s appeal to farmer leaders to suggest an alternative to repeal of the laws is impossible.
“The new laws will hand over control of agriculture markets, farmers’ land and food chain to corporates,” it added.
The sixth round of talks was originally scheduled for December 9 but it was called off after an informal meeting of Home Minister Amit Shah with some union leaders failed to reach any breakthrough.
The protests have also led to traffic congestions, forcing the police to divert vehicular movement.
Taking to Twitter on Friday, the Delhi Traffic Police alerted commuters about the routes that remained closed owing to the agitation and suggested that they take alternative roads.
“Tikri, Dhansa Borders are closed for any Traffic Movement. Jhatikara Border is open only for LMV (Cars/Light Motor Vehicles), two wheelers and pedestrian movement,” it tweeted.
“Available Open Borders to Haryana are Jharoda (Only Single Carriageway/Road), Daurala, Kapashera, Badusarai, Rajokri NH-8, Bijwasan/Bajghera, Palam Vihar and Dundahera Borders,” the Delhi Traffic Police said in another tweet.
Enacted in September, the three farm laws have been projected by the central government as major reforms in the agriculture sector that will remove the middleman and allow farmers to sell their produce anywhere in the country.
However, the protesting farmers have expressed apprehension that the new laws would pave the way for eliminating the safety cushion of MSP and do away with the mandi system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.
The government has repeatedly asserted that the MSP and mandi systems will stay and has accused the Opposition of misleading the farmers.