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Will attend ninth round of talks with govt on Friday, don’t have much hope though: Farmer leaders

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The farmer unions protesting against the new farm laws said they have decided to attend the meeting scheduled with the Union government on Friday, even as farmer leaders as well as government officials said they did not expect a breakthrough in the meeting.

Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government was open for discussion with the unions. “As always we are ready for the discussion with open mind tomorrow (Friday) with the unions,” he said, two days after the Supreme Court stayed the farm laws and formed a committee.

The unions had welcomed the stay on the three farm laws but said they would not appear before the four-member panel.

“We never went to the Supreme Court. It is a matter between the government and the farmers,” Bhartiya Kisan Union spokesman Rakesh Tikait told ET on Thursday. “We welcome the stay on these laws by the Supreme Court, but our fight is for repeal of these laws. We respect the Supreme Court for taking cognisance of farmers sitting at borders (of Delhi). We never demanded a committee.”

The farmer unions held a meeting on Wednesday and unanimously decided to attend the meeting. However, they also decided to go ahead with their plans to organise a tractor parade in Delhi on Republic day.

“From day one we have maintained our stand and it is the government which bought time. Several rounds of meetings have taken place with no clarity,” said Rajinder Singh, vice president, Kirti Kisan Union. “We don’t want to be seen as someone not interested in discussion. Therefore, we will attend every meeting called by the government.”

Farmer leaders said going by the experience of the discussions with the government so far, they did not expect any change in the status quo after the Friday meeting.

“This movement is going on because the government wants it to go on,” said Tikait. “We are also being told that common men are suffering because of these protests. But everything is happening because the government wants it. Just repeal the laws and we will go home. We have said it several times and will say it again on Friday.”

On Saturday, the farmer leaders are scheduled to meet in order to take a call on the future course of their protest.

Meanwhile, government officials also said they did not expect Friday’s meeting to break the impasse. “The government is holding the meeting as scheduled. There is no chance of any headway. But at least a message will go that the government is still hopeful of a resolution through dialogue,” said a senior agriculture ministry official, who did not wish to be identified.

The protesting farmer unions have been demanding repeal of the three laws and a legal framework for minimum support price.

“The government has clarified its stand on several occasions that repealing of laws is not possible. There are several unions across the country which have supported the laws and have threatened to launch an agitation if the government steps back,” said the official.

Friday’s meeting comes after Bhartiya Kisan Union president Bhupinder Singh Mann recused himself from the four-member panel set up by the Supreme Court saying, “I am ready to sacrifice any position offered or given to me so as to not compromise the interests of Punjab and farmers of the country.”

The ministry official further said, “The committee is now reduced to three members. It has to start working within 10 days of its constitution. Now, there is uncertainty over it. Farmer unions have already announced that they will not appear before the committee but will continue to engage in talks with the government. The Supreme Court has asked to list the matter after eight weeks.”

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