Bhartiya Kisan Union national president Bhupinder Singh Mann on Thursday said he is recusing himself from the four-member committee appointed by the Supreme Court to resolve the deadlock between farmers and the Centre over the new agri-marketing laws.
Mann's announcement came on a day when his organisation's Punjab unit decided to disassociate itself from him.
Farmer unions and opposition parties too had raised doubts over the composition of the panel, insisting that its members have been in favour of the three laws in the past. The panel is due to hold its first meeting on 19 January.
The farmers welcomed Mann's move, with BKU spokesperson Rakesh Tikait inviting the 81-year-old leader to join the stir.
Meanwhile, ahead of the ninth round of talks scheduled for today (Friday, 15 January), Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said that the government was ready to continue talks with an open mind, while the farmer unions also asserted that they want the talks with the government to continue.
Mann recuses from SC-appointed panel
Mann said he is thankful to the apex court for nominating him to the panel but would give up any position to prevent farmers' interests from being compromised.
"As a farmer myself and a union leader, in view of the prevailing sentiments and apprehensions amongst the farm unions and the public in general, 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," he said.
I am recusing myself from the committee and I will always stand with my farmers and Punjab, said Mann, who is also an ex-MP.
The apex court had on Tuesday stayed the implementation of the three Central laws till further orders and announced the formation of a committee to hear the grievances of the farmers and the opinion of the government.
BKU (Punjab) president Baldev Singh Mianpur claimed that Mann might have decided to change his stand after he got a whiff of their meeting.
"We decided to disassociate ourselves from Mann as he did not consult with us to work as a committee member," he said.
Mann, 81, is also the chairman of the All-India Kisan Coordination Committee. He was a Rajya Sabha MP from 1990 to 96. He had supported the Congress in 2012 and 2017 Punjab Assembly polls.
Congress MP Partap Singh Bajwa welcomed Mann's decision and hoped that other three committee members will also recuse themselves.
The four-member committee has further eroded the trust between farmer unions and the government, Bajwa said, adding that all four members have publicly written in support of the farm laws.
"It is my hope that the other three members of the committee also recuse themselves. It is an unfortunate situation to be placed into, but given their very public support of these farm laws makes their position untenable. It is impossible for the farmers to trust in the impartiality of a committee whose members have vociferously supported the farming laws," Bajwa said in a statement.
Farmer unions say others should follow
Farmer bodies also hailed the Mann's decision.
"He did the right thing, otherwise, he would have faced farmers' anger," Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) general secretary Sukhdev Singh said.
Welcoming the stay on the implementation of the new laws, farmer unions had said they would not appear before the group. Their leaders had claimed that the members of the committee are "pro-government".
The Supreme Court, however, expects them to participate.
The representatives of all the farmers' bodies, whether they are holding a protest or not and whether they support or oppose the laws shall participate in the deliberations of the committee and put forth their viewpoints, it had said.
The committee was asked to submit its report to the Supreme Court within two months of its first sitting, which is to take place within 10 days
'Well being of farmers our priority'
Apart from Mann, Shetkari Sanghatana (Maharashtra) president Anil Ghanwat, International Food Policy Research Institute's Pramod Kumar Joshi and agriculture economist Ashok Gulati were appointed to the panel.
Speaking to Firstpost, Joshi said, "I can assure you that the panel will do its job in an impartial and honest manner. All the four members will now develop the modalities on how to proceed. We will formulate a plan of action and a time frame so that we can submit our report in two months."
Joshi is a former director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), New Delhi. In his recent views expressed in the media, he has strongly opposed giving legal backing to minimum support prices and has advocated contract farming as a 'win-win situation' for all stakeholders.
Ghanwat, who is also a member of the panel, told Firstpost, "The well-being of the farmers will be our foremost and only priority. There will be no political motives or biases involved. We will seek to ensure that the law does justice to farmers."
He said, "We (Shetkari Sanghatana) supported the new laws only to an extent; we did not give our complete support to them. We have also demanded that certain amendments should be made to the legislations. Now, the committee appointed by the apex court will also speak to the protesting farmers to understand what they wa1nt."
First meet of SC-appointed panel likely on 19 Jan, says Anil Ghanwat
The Supreme Court-appointed panel on farm laws is likely to hold its first meeting on 19 January at the Pusa campus in Delhi, one of its members Anil Ghanwat said on Thursday and asserted the committee will have no "ego or prestige issue" if it has to go to farmers' protest sites to talk to them.
The panel members were scheduled to have a virtual interaction earlier in the day to discuss its future course of action, but it could not take place after Mann recused himself from the committee.
The existing members can hold their virtual interaction on Friday, Ghanwat said, while asserting that he will not leave the committee unless asked by the apex court and he does not expect any other member to recuse themselves.
Govt, farmer leaders show openness for Friday's meet
"The government is ready to hold talks with farmers' leaders with an open mind," Tomar told reporters .
Clearing the confusion over the fate of the ninth round of talks in the wake of the Supreme Court on 11 January appointing a four-member panel to resolve the impasse and a key member of the proposed committee subsequently recusing himself, Tomar said the talks between the government and the union representatives will take place as scheduled for 12 pm on 15 January.
Meanwhile, Tikait also asserted that the protesting farmer unions will attend the scheduled ninth round of talks with the government claiming that it is necessary to continue the dialogue to resolve the deadlock and end the agitation.
Asked if unions have any hope from the Friday meeting, Tikait told PTI: "Let's see what happens tomorrow. But, our meetings will continue with the government till our protest ends as it is necessary."
"We will not oppose the meetings with the government," the BKU leader said when asked whether the Friday talks could be the last one if there is no solution.
The farmer unions have been maintaining that they were ready to attend the scheduled talks with the government, even as they have said they do not want to appear before the court-appointed panel and have also questioned its composition.
With inputs from PTI