In a ruling Tuesday, the court said the decision to suspend the laws “could dampen farmers’ hurt feelings and encourage them to come to the negotiating table with confidence and good faith.”
The law was first passed in September. For decades, the Indian government has offered guaranteed prices to farmers for certain crops, providing long-term security that allows them to make investments in the next crop cycle. The new laws, initiated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, instead allowed farmers to sell their goods at any cost – giving them more freedom to do things like sell directly to buyers and sell to other states.
But farmers argued that the new rules would put them at a disadvantage by making it easier for companies to exploit agricultural workers and helping large companies lower prices. While farmers could sell crops at increased prices if demand is there, they could conversely struggle to meet the minimum price this year when there is too much supply in the market.
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There have been sit-ins lasting days along each of New Delhi’s three borders. Farmers have blocked roads and set up temporary camps, some sleeping on the road or in their tractors. They arrived from several different states to take part in the mass protests, sometimes clashes with the police.
All the while, the government has held eight rounds of negotiations with leaders of more than 30 farmers’ associations that are against the laws – but the negotiations went nowhere.
The standstill prompted the Supreme Court to suspend laws Tuesday and order the formation of a four-member conciliation committee to help the parties negotiate in a “comfortable atmosphere.” The conciliation committee must meet within 10 days and submit its first report within two months of the meeting in accordance with the order.
The court also said on Tuesday that the minimum aid price protection would be maintained until further orders – one of the primary points of friction between the government and farmers. According to the court order, “no farmer shall be deprived or deprived of his title as a result of acts taken under the Farm Act.”
However, the umbrella group representing the farmers’ unions, Samyukt Kisan Morcha, has repeatedly said it will not take part in any court mediation – and reiterated this point after the new order was issued.
“This is the government’s malice that they want to relieve the pressure from their shoulders, so they have asked for this Supreme Court committee, which we are against,” farmer Balbir Singh Rajewal said at a news conference on Tuesday, adding that committee members are all pro-government.
The attorney general, who represents the government in the case, also criticized the Supreme Court ruling, saying they “strongly opposed” any temporary stay.
The laws have been so controversial because agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58% of India’s 1.3 billion inhabitants, and farmers have been arguing for years to get the guaranteed minimum prices raised. They are the largest constituency in the country – making agriculture a key political issue.