NEW DELHI – India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday halted the implementation of new laws that would reshape the country’s agriculture and sparked huge protests outside the capital, New Delhi, in a setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
The Supreme Court said it suspended the laws until a committee of experts, as it will appoint, could consult with government officials and protesting farmers to try to find a solution to the dispute. During the first hearing day on Monday, the Supreme Court was sharp in its criticism of how the government had handled the laws, sbeing “extremely disappointed” and fearing that the protests could lead to violence.
“We do not want any damage or blood on our hands,” Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde said during the hearing.
It was unclear whether the suspension would satisfy the protesting farmers. They have insisted on a complete repeal of the laws. as they say, would diminish the poor state protection they have and put them at the mercy of companies.
On the eve of the verdict, local news reports, citing farmers’ leaders, suggested that they might not be participating in committees and considered them a government ploy to oust protesters.
But shortly after the verdict on Tuesday, AP Singh, one of the lawyers representing some of the farmers’ associations involved in the protests, called it a “victory for the farmers.” Union leaders said they would respond after holding talks.
Tens of thousands of farmers have been besieging New Delhi for more than six weeks now and have set up well-organized protest camps stretching for several kilometers at all the capital’s main entrances. They have stood firm despite winter cold, frequent rains and dozens of deaths in their ranks.
The Modi government, which has said it will almost double India’s economy by 2024, hopes that injecting private investment into the troubled agricultural sector will accelerate growth. The new laws passed by Parliament in September in a hasty manner that led to protests from opposition parties would ease some government regulations to encourage private investors to trade directly with farmers.
Even with these rules, such as minimum guarantee prices for certain crops, farmers had struggled with rising debt, which has led many of them to suicide. They fear that the new laws will remove the poor protection they have had and that they will fight to fight the company’s giants for fair treatment.