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India Farmers Strike

India’s top court halts agriculture reforms after weeks of farmer strikes

Farmers block a major highway in protest against new farm laws, at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, India, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021.
Farmers block a major highway in protest against new farm laws, at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, India, Friday, Jan. 8, 2021. © AP Photo / Altaf Qadri
4 min

India’s Supreme Court has suspended the implementation of controversial agriculture laws and said a panel of experts will try and break the deadlock between the government and farmers protesting since November along the borders of the capital Delhi.

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The court indefinitely stayed the implementation of three laws that sparked protests after they were introduced in September.

Chief Justice Sharad Bobde told a hearing the committee will examine the grievances of the farmers protesting for the past 47 days.

"These are matters of life and death. We are concerned about the laws. We are concerned about the lives and property of people affected by the agitation. We are trying to solve the problem in the best way,” local media quoted judge Bobde as saying.

“We will protect farmers,” he said at the hearing, hailed by some opposition politicians.

Farmers dig in for prolonged battle

Farmers, especially from the food-growing states of Punjab and Haryana, argued they will settle for nothing less than the scrapping of the laws, which they say will benefit rich corporations.

“It is clear that the court is being misguided by various forces even in its constitution of a committee,” said the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, an umbrella of farmers’ unions.

The forum in a statement said it had explained its fears to the government in eight rounds of fruitless talks held so far.

“Government has hidden these hard facts from people and (the) courts,” it added.

The protesters also want written guarantees of assured price for their produce outside state-controlled wholesale markets.

Government assurances on new laws

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has repeatedly defended the thorny laws saying they aimed to put more cash into the pockets of small cultivators by upgrading India’s antiquated farming methods.

The government has also dismissed fears that farmers’ would be short-changed once they are implemented.

It accused opposition groups and anti-national forces of inciting farmers with falsehoods and insists the laws were a product of a “consensus”.

“Across the country there has been a consensus and based on that...the government has come out with the three legislations,” Modi’s ruling BJP party spokesman Sudesh Verma said.

The government was still ready to listen to their grievances, the official added in a public debate on Tuesday.

The two sides are scheduled to hold a fresh round of talks on Friday but farmers appeared adamant.

“The protests will continue until (our) demands are met,” said Rakesh Tikait, one of India’s most prominent farm union leaders.

Tent cities on Delhi’s border

The protesters, many accompanied by women and children, have set up makeshift tents on various highways to Delhi, blocking civilian traffic to the nation’s capital.

The organisers have set up temporary health clinics, a barber shop, a launderette and even foot massaging services besides community kitchens at the protest sites.

Some 45 farmers have died largely because of freezing conditions and unexpected winter rains, according to the protesters.

At least 10 of them have been killed in road accidents while trying to reach the protest sites, they claimed.

The unions also warned farmers would take out farm “tractor rallies” on 26 January, India’s national day.

“The parade announced by farmers’ organisations on Republic Day will be held at Delhi and all over the country in large numbers,” their statement said.

 

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