In a bid to find a solution to the farmers’ agitation over the demand for legal enforcement of minimum support price (MSP), the Centre has proposed that it will buy cotton, maize, tur, urad and masur for five years directly from farmers at MSP without any quantitative limit. However, there is no commitment on a law which the farmers have been asking for and that could even force private traders to buy at least at the benchmark rate, if not more.

Releasing a video message after the fourth round of talks, farmer leader Abhimanyu Kohar said the ministers have proposed that these five crops will be procured though Nafed, NCCF and Cotton Corporation and there will not be any cap. However, the government has sought more time to respond to the demands for debt waiver and implementation of land acquisition formula.

“We have given them two more days to respond on these two demands and if there is nothing heard by February 21, we will resume the peaceful march to Delhi from the Punjab-Haryana borders,” Kohar said. He also appealed to farmers to join the two points of the Punjab-Haryana borders by February 21.

Food and Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, who was part of the ministerial panel holding discussions with the protesting farmer unions, said the farmer leaders have informed them that they would discuss the proposal in their forums over the next two days and take a decision. The proposal to buy the five crops will save Punjab’s farming, improve the groundwater table, and also save the land from getting barren.

Kohar also said the decision with regard to the government’s proposal will be taken by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (non-political) and the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee. SKM (non-political) leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal said the government should not dilly-dally and accept the farmers’ demands before the Model Code of Conduct comes into force.

The current proposal by the Centre is part of a scheme launched by Cooperation Minister Amit Shah in the first week of January, in which he opened a portal for registration of tur-growing farmers and announced that the assured purchase scheme would be extended to maize and all pulses (except chana and moong).

Apart from Goyal, Agriculture Minister, Arjun Munda, and Minister of State for Home, Nityanand Rai, were also part of the team deputed by the Centre for the talks. Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann also attended the meeting, which began around 8.30 pm on Sunday and ended at around 1 am on Monday.

Another farmer leader Sarwan Singh Pandher (of Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee) said: “We will discuss in our forums on February 19-20 and take the opinion of experts regarding the proposals and accordingly take a decision.”

On the other hand, the SKM (another outfit not related to the current Delhi march agitation) on Sunday said it would gherao the residences of BJP leaders in Punjab for three days from Tuesday to press the Centre into accepting the demands. The SKM will not accept anything less than the C-2 plus 50 per cent formula for MSP, said SKM leader Balbir Singh Rajewal.

Farmers have been demanding implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendation for fixing minimum support prices (MSPs) at 50 per cent over and above C2 costs of production, and a law to guarantee purchase of crops at MSP. Other demands include unconditional pension for farmers above 60 years of age, and farmers should be made completely debt-free.