India’s top court suspends implementation of new farm laws

Family members of farmers prepare food for fellow farmers as they block a highway in protest against new farm laws at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s top court on Tuesday temporarily put on hold the implementation of agricultural reform laws and ordered the creation of an independent committee of experts to negotiate with farmers who have been protesting against the legislation.

The Supreme Court’s ruling came a day after it heard petitions filed by the farmers challenging the legislation. It said the laws were passed without enough consultation, and that it was disappointed with the way talks were proceeding between representatives of the government and farmers.

Tens of thousands of farmers protesting against the legislation have been blocking half a dozen major highways on the outskirts of New Delhi for more than 45 days. Farmers say they won’t leave until the government repeals the laws.

They say the legislation passed by Parliament in September will lead to the cartelization and commercialization of agriculture, make farmers vulnerable to corporate greed and devastate their earnings.

The government insists the laws will benefit farmers and enable them to market their produce and boost production through private investment.

Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde said the independent committee of four experts would “amicably resolve” the standoff between the farmers and the government.

The court, however, did not provide details as to how it selected the committee experts.

Farmer unions rejected the idea of an expert committee and said all four members have publicly favored the contentious legislation. They reiterated their demand for the total repeal of the laws.

A key union said the court’s decision to suspend the implementation of the legislation was welcome but “not a solution.”

“The government must withdraw. It must understand that farmers and people of India are opposed to the laws,” the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee said.

During a virtual hearing on Monday, Bobde said the impasse was causing distress to farmers and the situation at the protest sites was only getting worse.

“Each one of us will be responsible if anything goes wrong,” Bobde told India’s attorney general, K.K. Venugopal, who was arguing for the government.

The two sides have failed to make progress in multiple rounds of talks over the farmers’ main demand that the laws be scrapped. The government has ruled out withdrawing the laws, but says it could make some amendments.

The two sides are due to meet again on Friday.

On Dec. 30, they reached a consensus on two issues — that the government would continue its subsidy of electricity for irrigating farms, and that farmers would not be punished for burning crop residues, a cause of air pollution.

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