Indian farmers end yearlong protests as Modi's government caves in

Farmers shout slogans as they make their way along the road to Delhi, on Dec 5, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - Indian farmers, who continued their protests even after Parliament repealed three contentious farm laws, have finally decided to call off their agitation after the government accepted most of their other demands.

The farmers ended the strike after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government agreed to form a panel to consider guaranteed crop prices across the country, withdraw cases lodged against growers in various states and compensate families of the people who died during the protest, said farm leader Yogendra Yadav.

"We will again meet on Jan 15 to see whether promises made by the government are kept or not, and after that we will decide how to proceed further," said Mr Yadav.

Farmers will start vacating the protest sites from Saturday (Dec 11) after a victory march, he said.

The end of the agitation, which started in late 2020 and killed about 700 protesters, may bring relief to Mr Modi ahead of five state elections next year.

The repeal of the laws, his biggest policy reversal since assuming power in 2014, holds significance as farmers form a powerful voting bloc in the country, with 60 per cent of its 1.4 billion people dependent on agriculture for a living.

The rollback has also signalled the government lacks the stomach to push through tough reforms when faced with popular resistance. The three farm laws would have eased rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm crops.

Key Demands

Despite the repeal of the farm laws last month, the farmers continued to push ahead with their key demands that included setting up of a mechanism to ensure farmers get minimum support rates for all harvests.

The government earlier said it's difficult to adopt a universal price guarantee system as any such move would involve a huge budgetary expenditure. It currently fixes the rates for about two dozen farm commodities, including some grains and pulses, and procures limited volumes for its welfare programmes at those levels. Private players buy farm goods at market-determined prices.

The highly coordinated and largely peaceful agitation, one of the longest protests India has witnessed since its independence in 1947, saw hundreds of thousands of farmers gathering along arterial roads into the capital and other cities.

They camped in tents, facing a winter when temperatures plummeted to as low as about 5 deg C and a summer that recorded the mercury soaring as high as 40 deg C.

The police and paramilitary forces had to deploy almost 50,000 personnel, as well as cement and steel barricades, barbed wire and riot-control vehicles. The police even used water cannon at some places.

The two sides were poles apart on Mr Modi's bold reforms.

The government had said the laws would overhaul the way farm goods are produced and sold in the country, opening up a decades-old system of state-run wholesale markets to more private purchases and helping producers earn more.

The farmers feared the laws would give companies and large wholesalers the power to dictate prices to small land-holders, who make up the majority of producers.

"The current agitation stands suspended," Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella group of protesting farmers' associations, said in a statement.

The battle has been won and the war to ensure farmers' rights, especially to secure the Minimum Support Price as a legal entitlement for all farmers, will continue, it said.

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