The Guardian

In­dia’s farm­ers win war to block new bills

- Hannah Ellis-Petersen South Asia cor­re­spon­dent Agriculture · Livestock Industry · Politics · Industries · India · New Delhi · Punjab · Haryana · Haryana · Narendra Modi

In­dia’s supreme court has sus­pended a se­ries of controvers­ial agri­cul­ture laws that have prompted hun­dreds of thou­sands of farm­ers to stage a months-long protest in Delhi over fears for their liveli­hoods.

Since Novem­ber, more than half a mil­lion farm­ers have marched to the pe­riph­eries of Delhi and oc­cu­pied roads and high­ways lead­ing to the cap­i­tal. They set up a 24-hour protest camp and re­fused to move un­til the new farm laws were re­pealed.

Farm­ers, mainly from the states of Pun­jab and Haryana, ar­gued that the new laws were passed by the govern­ment with­out con­sul­ta­tion, had ex­posed them to the mercy of large cor­po­ra­tions re­gard­ing crop prices, and put them at greater risk of poverty and of los­ing their land.

The farm­ers’ protests proved to be one of the great­est po­lit­i­cal chal­lenges to face Naren­dra Modi, In­dia’s prime min­is­ter, since he gained power in 2014. The mass ag­i­ta­tion forced the govern­ment to the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, a rare oc­cur­rence. De­spite eight rounds of talks, how­ever, the sides had re­mained in dead­lock.

Af­ter two days of de­lib­er­a­tion the supreme court de­cided yes­ter­day to sus­pend the laws. Judges or­dered the cre­ation of a com­mit­tee to look into farm­ers’ griev­ances, say­ing they were “ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed” with how ne­go­ti­a­tions had gone to date. The judges expressed concern at the lack of con­sul­ta­tion with the farm­ers from leg­is­la­tors. The chief jus­tice, SA Bobde, told the court: “These are mat­ters of life and death. We are con­cerned with laws … with lives and prop­erty of peo­ple af­fected by the ag­i­ta­tion. We are try­ing to solve the prob­lem in the best way. One of the pow­ers we have is to sus­pend the leg­is­la­tion.”

Many politi­cians who had expressed anger at the farm laws cel­e­brated the rul­ing, but it was met with de­ri­sion by farm­ers’ lead­ers, who said that now was “not the time for a com­mit­tee”.

Unions re­it­er­ated that they would not par­tic­i­pate in any court-or­dered com­mit­tee process and would not call off their protest un­til the new leg­is­la­tion was re­pealed.

“The mem­bers of the supre­mecourt-ap­pointed com­mit­tee are not de­pend­able as they have been writ­ing on how agri laws are pro-farmer. We will con­tinue our ag­i­ta­tion,” said Bal­bir Singh Ra­je­wal, a farm­ers’ leader. The farm­ers plan a trac­tor rally protest through Delhi on In­dia’s Repub­lic Day, 26 Jan­uary.

Sixty farm­ers have died while tak­ing part in the protests, which have in­volved camp­ing out in makeshift tents in icy win­ter tem­per­a­tures.

Some said Modi had suf­fered a set­back, the supreme court be­ing widely seen as usu­ally favourable to the rul­ing govern­ment. Other ob­servers sug­gested the farm law susen­sion gave the govern­ment a way out of the ne­go­ti­a­tion dead­lock with­out ap­pear­ing to bow to farm­ers’ de­mands.

 ??  ?? ▲ Pun­jabi farm­ers set­ting off for Delhi yes­ter­day to protest against the laws
▲ Pun­jabi farm­ers set­ting off for Delhi yes­ter­day to protest against the laws

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