India’s prime minister has said his government will withdraw controversial farming laws that sparked year-long protests from tens of thousands of farmers.
Narendra Modi made the surprise announcement during a televised live speech, broadcast on Gurpurab – a Sikh festival that marks the anniversary of the birth of the first of the 10 Sikh gurus, Guru Nanak Dev Ji.
He said: “In the parliament session starting later this month, we will complete the constitutional process to repeal these three agricultural laws.”
February: India’s farmers continue protests
The farming laws were first passed in September last year, and the government had defended them and said they were necessary to modernise the country’s agriculture sector and would boost production through private investment.
However, farmers said the three federal laws, which would deregulate crop pricing, would reduce their earnings by dismantling the system that guaranteed them an income and leave them vulnerable to large private companies.
What were the farming laws and what did they do?
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act allows farmers to sell their produce outside the Agriculture Produce Markets Committees (APMC). This means traders can purchase from a farmer at a mutually agreed price.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act allows farmers to do contract farming and market their produce freely.
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act removes food grains, pulses, edible oils, and onion from the essential list and makes them unrestricted for trade except in extraordinary circumstances.
Most farmers are small-scale and have low annual incomes – they are in no position to take their produce out of the district to trade, so this will add to their expenses.
They said in the long run a consortium of private players will develop, leaving them vulnerable to large corporations and market forces.
However, the government argued the laws will abolish middlemen and improve farmers’ incomes as they will have a wider market to sell to.
It has been a huge political challenge for Mr Modi, who swept the polls for the second time in 2019.
Demonstrations over the laws spread to cities around the world, including the UK and Canada.
In December last year, Indian farmers staged a nationwide strike over the laws. All major opposition parties came out in favour of the strike.