India’s parliament on Monday passed a bill to repeal three laws aiming at deregulating agricultural markets, bowing to pressure from farmers who have protested for over a year to demand that the laws be rolled back.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration introduced the farm bills last year through an executive order, traditionally reserved for emergency legislation, triggering India’s longest-running farmers’ protest. Parliament then passed the legislation via a voice vote, drawing widespread criticism that it had rushed through the laws without proper debate.
In a bid to end the protests ahead of the state assembly election in India’s most populous Uttar Pradesh state early next year, Modi said this month his government would repeal the laws in the new session of parliament.
As parliament reconvened for its winter session on Monday, both the lower and upper houses passed the bill to withdraw the laws meant to deregulate and open up agricultural markets to companies. Farmers have said the laws would leave them with scant bargaining power against big private purchasers.
The controversial laws saw tens of thousands of people, including many elderly growers and women farmers, brave extreme weather and a severe second wave of coronavirus infections to camp out on the outskirts of New Delhi over the past year.
In addition to their repeal demand, protesting farmers are also asking that Modi’s administration introduce a law to secure government prices for produces beyond just rice and wheat.
The government currently buys rice and wheat at state-set Minimum Support Prices (MSPs), but the subsidies only benefit about 6% of India’s millions of farmers.
Protesters are demanding MSPs for all crops – a move that has galvanised growers across the country and taken the protest beyond India’s grain-growing states of Punjab and Haryana.
The government has not yet made any comment on the protesters’ demand for MSPs.
Farmers celebrated the development but said the protest would only be called off when the government promised legislation on MSPs for all produce.
Meanwhile, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said the repealing of the three farm laws without debate shows that the government is “terrified” of having a discussion and knows that it has done something wrong.
After Parliament passed ‘The Farm Laws Repeal Bill’ to rescind the three contentious farm laws against which farmers have been protesting for over a year, Gandhi told reporters that his party had predicted that the government will have to take back the farm laws as it knew that the “power of three-four crony capitalists cannot withstand the strength of farmers and labourers”.
He said the repeal of the laws is a success of farmers and also of the country. “What is unfortunate is how the bills have been repealed, without any discussion, without any conversation. We wanted to have a discussion about forces behind these bills because these bills do not just reflect the view of the prime minister, these bills reflect the forces behind the prime minister and that is what we wanted to discuss,” Gandhi said.
“We wanted to discuss MSP (issue), we wanted to discuss the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, we wanted to discuss the 700 farmers who died in this agitation and unfortunately that discussion has not been allowed,” the former Congress chief said.
It is a reflection of the fact that this government is “terrified” of having these discussions and “wants to hide”.
What is the point of Parliament if discussions are not allowed, he asked. (Reuters)