Home / News / India /  Govt blinks, offers to defer farm laws

The Central government, under intense pressure from farmers, has offered to suspend the three contentious farm laws for as long as 18 months to end the protests at Delhi’s doorstep. The government also proposed to constitute a committee to review the laws and continue the dialogue with farmer unions.

The proposal, representing a major climbdown for the government, came at a meeting between the unions and the Centre on Wednesday. Nine rounds of talks before this had failed to break the deadlock. Farmer unions told the government they will respond on Thursday after discussing the proposal. The next meeting is scheduled for 22 January.

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“The government is ready to suspend the three laws for one to one-and-a-half years during which a solution can be reached by mutual dialogue. We want the agitation to end and the talks with farm unions to continue," agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said after the meeting.

“I am hopeful of reaching a solution by the next meeting on Friday," Tomar said, adding, “It will be a victory of Indian democracy when the agitation ends and farmers return to their villages."

The government offered to suspend the implementation of the three laws for up to 18 months or a mutually agreeable period of time to restore the trust of farmer unions, and they are willing to do this through an affidavit in the Supreme Court, said Kavitha Kuruganti, who is part of the 41-member delegation of Samyukta Kisan Morcha that is negotiating with the government.

“The government has also proposed to form a committee to decide on the future of these laws on whether they will be repealed or amended. We will send our response in a day," Kuruganti added.

The Centre’s offer came ahead of a planned tractor march by protesting farmers on Republic Day. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court refused to stop the tractor rally and said it is for the police and authorities to take a decision. Farmer unions have assured the government that the march will not disrupt the official Republic Day parade.

On a plea filed by a farmer organization named the Kisan Mahapanchayat, the court also issued a notice on the application to reconstitute a four-member review committee it had formed on 12 January while staying the implementation of the laws. One of the members, Bhupinder Singh Mann, recused himself on 14 January, stating he cannot compromise the interests of farmers.

The Supreme Court said that the expert panel has no power to adjudicate and will only submit a report to the court after hearing all sides. Protesting farmer unions refused to present their views before the committee and argued that they will only hold a dialogue with the government, which has the powers to repeal the laws.

“If you don’t want to appear before the committee, we cannot compel you. But you cannot malign people like this and cast aspersions on them and also the court," Chief Justice of India S.A. Bodbe said, responding to criticism that members of the committee had publicly favoured the laws.

Over 200,000 farmers have been protesting with their tractor trolleys at several entry points to the national capital since 27 November. Farmers have been resolute in their demand to repeal the laws despite the death of several protestors due to the winter chill, road accidents and by suicide.

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