Indian farmers to extend protests after rejecting court proposal

Plans to march to the capital city and agitations across about eight Indian states will continue. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - Tens of thousands of farmers will continue their protests against India's new farm laws until they are repealed, rejecting the top court's decision to keep them in abeyance and adding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's woes.

The siege of a key roadway to the country's capital where the farmers have been camping for the past two months will continue, protest leaders said, as will plans to march into the city later this month.

A three-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde on Tuesday (Jan 12) barred the implementation of the law until the court hears the matter and arrives at a judgment.

It also set up a panel to mediate between the government and the protesters and submit a report to the court.

"Suspending the implementation of the laws as an interim measure is welcome, but is not a solution," the leaders camped on capital New Delhi's outskirts said in a statement.

The government "must repeal the laws".

Farmer leaders, opposition and some of Mr Modi's allies fear the laws will lead to corporate control over agricultural production, processing, and markets and lower crop prices by removing government purchases causing losses to cultivators.

While the government maintains that farmers are being misled and the new laws will lift curbs on purchases, remove middlemen and increase farmers income, the court's decision to suspend the laws adds to its challenges.

Mr Modi had in his first term promised to double farmers' incomes by 2022.

The court-appointed committee comprising Mr Ashok Gulati, Mr Pramod Kumar Joshi and farmer leaders Anil Ghanwat and Mr Bhupinder Singh Mann, will hold its first meeting in 10 days and submit the report in two months.

Right to protest

With the agitation refusing to die down, the court said the farmers' right to protest cannot be stifled even as it urged protesters to return to their livelihood.

It also ruled that the existing system of the government setting a minimum floor price for procurement of certain farm produce will continue and no farmer will be deprived of their land using the new laws.

The court will continue to hear the matter next week to decide on the constitutional validity of the laws approved by the Parliament last year.

It is rare for Indian courts to stay a law cleared by the Parliament.

The Tuesday order notes that country's Attorney-General, Mr K.K. Venugopal, had "opposed vehemently" the judges' suggestion to stay the law citing a number of past verdicts saying the judiciary should refrain from interfering in acts of Parliament.

The court, however, ruled that it had the powers.

Yet, the farmers have said they will "not participate" in discussions with the court-appointed panel saying all four committee members "have actively advocated" for the laws, according to their statement.

"It is clear that the Court is being misguided by various forces even in its constitution of a committee," farmer leaders said in their statement.

The court on Tuesday also agreed to hear the government's petition to stop a rally planned by farmers on Jan 26, when India celebrates the forming of its Republic.

Farmers said the government "is trying to misguide the court on this too".

They said plans to march to the capital city and agitations including sit-ins, meetings, and bike rallies across about eight Indian states will continue.

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