Indian farmers reject offer to delay contentious reforms; protests continue


Protesting Indian farmers, whose strike now entered its second month, rejected the central government’s proposal to suspend the three contentious agriculture laws for 18 months and reiterated their demand for the laws to be abolished.

In a general meeting, the United Farmer’s Front, the umbrella body of 41 protesting farmer unions, members reiterated a full repeal of the three laws and to not stand down from large scale sit-in protests.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi have always claimed that the new laws, enacted last September, will benefit farmers and boost production.

Farmers meanwhile fear the reforms, which will further open up the agriculture sector to free market forces, will slash incomes currently protected by a minimum support price set by the government.

“The proposal to suspend the laws is not acceptable because our demand is a repeal of the laws,” Darshan Pal, a senior leader of the agitation, was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times.

As a result, tens of thousands of farmers have been camping at the outskirts of the capital and protesting since November of last year despite the raging pandemic and an on-going cold wave.

The Indian Supreme Court temporarily halted the implementation of the law and formed a four-member committee to look into the concerns raised by the farmers.  The court has tasked the panel with submitting a report on the views of farmers and suggesting a solution to the standoff.

The protesting farmers also refused to work with the committee, arguing that its members have already publicly expressed their support for the new legislation.

Following the backlash, Bhupinder Singh Mann, one of the members of the committee, recused himself.

“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,” Mr. Mann said in a statement.

The farmers have also threatened to hold a rally on January 26, when the country celebrates its Republic Day, by marching on tractors into the capital Delhi.

Farm leaders said on Friday that the tractor parade would go ahead despite police refusing to grant permission, and that it would be “up to the government” to ensure the situation remains peaceful. (Source: The Independent)