NEW DELHI: A stalemate continued on Monday between the government and a representative group of thousands of protesting farmers, as the unions stuck to their demand for the repeal of three farm laws right from the beginning of the meeting even as the ministers listed various benefits of the Acts.
The two sides took a lunch break after just about one hour of talks, sources said, during which the three central ministers went into a huddle to discuss the way forward while the union leaders had the langar food arranged by them, as they have been doing for the last few times.
However, unlike the last round of talks on December 30, the ministers did not join the union leaders for the langar food and were seen having their own discussion in a separate room during the break.
The break continued for more than an hour with no signs of any breakthrough as the government also remained firm on not repealing the laws and is believed to have suggested a panel to take the matter forward.
The first hour of talks focussed only on the three laws and the other key demand of farmers for a legal guarantee to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) procurement system did not come up for discussions.
Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait, who is participating in the meeting, told PTI over the phone during the break that the first hour of discussion remained focussed on the three laws.
"Our demand is the repeal of the laws. We will not agree to any alternatives such as the setting of the committee," he said.
Asked if there could be a concrete outcome from the meeting, Tikait said, "I don't think so. They have to take back the laws for us to end the protest and go back to our homes."
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, are protesting at various Delhi borders for over a month against the three laws. They have stayed put despite heavy rains and waterlogging at protest sites over the last couple of days, besides severe cold weather conditions prevailing in and around the national capital.
The talks are still on and there has not yet been any discussion on the second agenda pertaining to giving legal backing to MSP, Tikait said.
Another union representative, Kavitha Kurungati of Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch, said, "The standoff continues as the government is talking about benefits of the laws and we are asking for the repeal of those laws."
No discussion has yet happened on the MSP, she said.
"We are waiting for the ministers to get back into the meeting (after the break). They seem to be in a huddle," she later said.
Enacted in September 2020, the government has presented these laws as major farm reforms and aimed at increasing farmers' income.
During the meeting, the government listed various benefits from the three laws, enacted a few months ago, but farmers kept insisting that the legislation must be withdrawn to address their apprehensions that the new Acts would weaken the MSP and mandi systems and leave them at the mercy of big corporates.
The government has maintained that these apprehensions are misplaced and has ruled out repealing the laws.
Union agriculture inister Narendra Singh Tomar, Railways, Commerce and Food Minister Piyush Goyal and Minister of State for Commerce Som Parkash, who is an MP from Punjab, are holding the talks with the representatives of 41 farmer unions at the Vigyan Bhawan.
The meeting began with paying respects to the farmers who lost their lives during the ongoing protest, sources said.
On December 30, the sixth round of talks was held between the government and the farmer unions, where some common ground was reached on two demands - decriminalisation of stubble-burning and continuation of power subsidies.
However, no breakthrough could be reached on the two main demands of the protesting farmers - a repeal of the three recent farm laws and a legal guarantee to the MSP procurement system.