India’s Supreme Court put on hold the implementation of three controversial farm laws, a setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde also formed a panel to facilitate talks with tens of thousands of farmers staging protests on the outskirts of the national capital for nearly two months. The lawyer for one of big farmer groups, Dushyant Dave, did not join the hearing on Tuesday.
The order, an attempt to find a way out of the stalemate between the government and protesters, comes a day after Justice Bobde said the court was “extremely disappointed at the way the government has handled all this.” Several rounds of talks with leaders representing farmers have failed even as more than 60 farmers are reported to have lost their lives braving cold weather.
The court refused to give more time to the government to find a solution and said the panel will hold discussions with both the parties. It will submit a report to the court, the bench said, without specifying a deadline. A detailed order is awaited.
The protesting farmers aren’t happy with the judgment but said they are awaiting a copy of the court’s order before deciding their future course of action. They had given a call to march to the capital city on Jan. 26.
“We don’t agree with the committee that has been formed,” said Darshan Pal, a farm leader with the Samyukta Kisan Morcha. “We are clear about our demand that the laws must not just be suspended, they should be repealed. Suspending these laws is the right thing to do but our demand that they be repealed altogether remains firm.”
The government maintains that the farmers are being misled and the new laws that lift curbs on who can purchase agricultural produce will remove middlemen and increase farmers income. Modi had in his first term promised to double farmers’ incomes by 2022. Protesting farmers, opposition parties, and some of Modi’s allies fear that private companies might replace existing middlemen and the absence of guaranteed government-set minimum price will force them to make distress sales.
Appearing for a group of farmers, lawyer Dave on Monday told the court that more than 400 unions from across the country and over 100,000 people were participating in the protests. “It is a question of farmers’ existence.”