GHAZIABAD, (India): In a surprise announcement on Friday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he would repeal agriculture laws that farmers have been protesting against for more than a year, sparking celebrations for what farmers called a hard-fought victory.
Modi’s decision is a significant climb-down for the combative leader and comes as state elections in politically important grain-belt states loom.
The legislation - three laws introduced in September last year - was aimed at deregulating the sector, allowing farmers to sell produce to buyers beyond government-regulated wholesale markets where growers are assured of a minimum price.
Farmers, fearing the reform would cut the prices they get for their crops, staged nationwide protests that drew in activists and celebrities from India and beyond, including climate activist Greta Thunberg and pop singer Rihanna.
“Today I have come to tell you, the whole country, that we have decided to withdraw all three agricultural laws,” Modi said in an address to the nation.
“I urge farmers to return to their homes, their farms and their families, and I also request them to start afresh.”
The government would repeal the laws in the new session of parliament, starting this month, he said.
The concession on laws the government had said were essential to tackle chronic wastage and inefficiencies comes ahead of elections early next year in Uttar Pradesh (UP), India’s most populous state and long a key political battleground, and two other northern states with large rural populations.
Modi’s capitulation leaves unresolved a complex system of farm subsidies and price supports that critics say the government cannot afford.
It could also raise questions for investors about how economic reforms risk being undermined by political pressures.
Protesting farmers, who have been camped out in their thousands by main roads around the capital, New Delhi, celebrated Modi’s back-track.