Indian govt offers to suspend farm laws

Farmers may call off protests

22 January, 2021 12:00 AM printer

NEW DELHI: India’s government on Wednesday offered to suspend implementation of three new farm laws that have triggered the biggest farmers’ protests in years, which farm union leaders said they would now consider calling off, reports Reuters

The cornerstone of the reform, introduced in September, allows private buyers to deal directly with farmers.

Angry farmers, who say that will make India’s traditional wholesale markets irrelevant and leave them at the mercy of big retailers and food processors, have camped out on major highways outside New Delhi for more than two months.

Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government was open to suspending the laws for up to 18 months, during which time representatives of the government and farmers should work to “provide solutions” for the industry.

Bilateral talks have so far failed to break the deadlock - landing Prime Minister Narendra Modi with one of his most significant challenges since he was re-elected in 2019. The next round of talks is due on Friday, and farm leader Dharmendra Malik said the unions would let the government know then if they would accept the offer and call off the protests.

The government was “sympathetic to farmers’ concerns and is trying to end the stalemate,” it said in a government, thanking them for maintaining “peace and discipline” during the protests.

Farmers plan a tractor rally through New Delhi on Jan 26, India’s Republic Day, which the Supreme Court on Wednesday declined a government petition to ban.

Earlier India’s Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the laws “until further notice”, and appointed an independent committee to broker a deal between the farmers and the government.

The farmers, however, have not accepted the committee saying that all of its panel members are pro-government. One of the members has also stepped down.

The government has opposed the rally saying that it will hinder Republic Day celebrations but farmer groups remain insistent on holding the protest rally where they say tens of thousands are expected to show up.

The Supreme Court has refused to intervene in the matter after the government approached the top court. The court asked police officials to take necessary calls on law and order in the matter.

One of the biggest changes is that farmers will be allowed to sell their produce at a market price directly to private players - agricultural businesses, supermarket chains and online grocers. Most Indian farmers currently sell the majority of their produce at government-controlled wholesale markets or mandis at assured floor prices.

The reforms give farmers the option of selling outside of this so-called “mandi system”.

But it’s unclear how this will play out in reality.

Farmers are mainly concerned that this will eventually lead to the end of wholesale markets and assured prices, leaving them with no back-up option. If they are not satisfied with the price offered by a private buyer, they cannot return to the mandi or use it as a bargaining chip during negotiations.