NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A ninth round of talks between the Indian government and protesting farmers over three new contentious farm laws made no headway on Friday, but a government minister and union leaders said they would resume discussions on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has said that the laws introduced in September will unshackle farmers from the obligation of selling produce only at regulated wholesale markets. But the farmers say the bills are designed to benefit private buyers.
“Today’s talks with farmers unions were inconclusive, and we will hold talks again on Jan. 19,” Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said. “We are sure that we’ll be able to come to an agreement through our talks.”
Tomar said the government was concerned about the health of farmers who have been camping on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi in protest for almost two months.
Farmers’ around-the-clock sit-ins in cold weather have already led to some deaths among them.
“We are committed to finding a solution through our dialogues with the government, and that’s why we’ve again agreed to meet on Jan. 19,” said Rakesh Tikait, one of the farmers’ leaders who attended the meeting with ministers.
Farmers have threatened to march to Delhi on Jan. 26, when India celebrates its Republic Day.
The Supreme Court has ordered an indefinite stay on implementing the new laws and appointed a four-member panel to hear farmers’ objections.
Raising doubt about the panel’s composition, farmer union leaders have said they will not appear before the committee. Panel members favour the three laws, protesting farmers say.
Bhupinder Singh Mann, one of the four members, has recused himself from the Supreme Court-appointed panel. Mann comes from Punjab, one of India’s breadbasket states. Punjab’s politically influential farmers have been at the vanguard of the agitation.
The opposition Congress party has protested at state capitals to support the farmers’ case.
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj and Manoj Kumar with additional reporting by Nigam Prusty; Editing by Mark Heinrich)