Indian court suspends contentious farmers bill after angry protests


India’s Supreme Court has suspended the implementation of the controversial new agriculture laws that have sparked weeks of demonstrations by tens of thousands of farmers on the outskirts of New Delhi.

The Supreme Court said on Tuesday, it wanted to facilitate mediation between the government and the protesting farmers who fear the legislation will leave them at the mercy of big businesses.

The court judges also ordered the creation of a four-man committee to look into farmers’ grievances over the laws, saying they were “extremely disappointed” with how negotiations had gone so far.

The judges also expressed concern at the lack of consultation with farmers when passing the law.

“These are matters of life and death. We are concerned with laws. We are concerned 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,” SA Bobde, the chief justice, told the court.

Since November, upwards of half a million farmers had marched to the peripheries of Delhi and occupied roads and highways going into the capital, setting up a 24-hour protest camp while calling for the repeal of the law.

The farmers argued that the new laws were passed by the government without consultation, had exposed them to the mercy of large corporations for crop prices and put them at greater risk of poverty and losing their land.

The farmers’ protests have proved to be one of the greatest political challenges to face Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, since he came to power in 2014.

It was one of the first times the government had been forced to the negotiating table following mass agitation and, despite eight rounds of talks, had remained in deadlock.

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

Farming 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participate in any court-ordered committee process and would not call off their protest until the new legislation was repealed.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 supreme court-appointed committee are not dependable as they have been writing on how agri laws are pro-farmer. We will continue our agitation,” said farmer leader Balbeer Singh Rajewal at a press conference.

The farmers said they still intended to go ahead with a planned protest tractor rally through Delhi on India’s Republic Day on January 26.

So far 60 farmers have died while taking part in the protests, which have involved camping out in make-shift tents in icy winter temperatures.

Some described the ruling as a setback for Modi, who can usually rely on the backing of the Supreme Court, which is widely seen as favourable to the ruling government.

However, other observers noted that the court’s decision to suspend the farm laws gave the government a way out of the negotiation deadlock without appearing to have bowed to the demands of the farmers. (Source: The Guardian)