Indian farmers call off year-long protests after government agrees to all demands

·4-min read

Indian farmers agitating against three contentious farm laws called off their year-long protest at capital Delhi’s borders on Thursday after the Narendra Modi-led government agreed to their demands.

The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of over 30 farmer unions organising the protests, said in a statement that the farmers camping at Delhi’s borders for the past 13 months will vacate protest sites on 11 December.

“We have decided to suspend our agitation. We will hold a review meeting on 15 January. If government doesn’t fulfil its promises, we could resume our agitation,” said farmer leader Gurnam Singh Chandauni.

Farmers’ unions said in their joint statement that while the “battle has been won,” they will continue “the war to ensure farmers’ rights, especially to secure MSP [minimum support price] as a legal entitlement for all farmers.”

The farmers dedicated the victory to 715 farmers who died while participating in the protests. They said that a victory celebration will not be held to mourn the death of India’s top military official, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat on Wednesday.

A victory rally will instead be held on 11 December when farmers leave the protest sites, the statement added.

The decision to call off the protests comes a day after farmers’ unions said they had decided to accept the government’s draft proposal which included assurances on creating a committee to look at MSP for all crops and the withdrawal of cases slapped against several farmers during the protests.

“Samyukta Kisan Morcha confirms to have received a revised draft proposal from the Government of India and that a consensus has been arrived at within SKM, accepting the proposal,” said an earlier statement from Wednesday.

Last month, India’s parliament formally repealed the three controversial farm laws just days after Mr Modi surprisingly announced he would halt the proposed reforms because his government was “not able to convince farmers”.

Despite the repeal of the three laws, farmers had kept up pressure on the government and said they would not go home unless the government accepted their demands on assurances for support prices for all produce.

There are currently support prices only for rice and wheat.

Farmers had also demanded the withdrawal of all cases lodged against them during the protests, as well as the withdrawal of a bill to reduce state control on the provision of electricity. Farmers currently do not have to pay for using electricity in India.

They also demanded protections for farmers who burn crop stubble from being penalised under Delhi air quality regulations.

In a revised proposal sent to the farmer unions on Wednesday, the federal government asked the farmers to call off their protests in view of the repeal of the laws.

The government promised to withdraw all police cases lodged against farmers and also said it would appeal to all states to do the same where such cases have been lodged.

States like Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana, all ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have agreed to withdraw the cases with immediate effect, reported The Indian Express.

Several political commentators have said the repeal was done in part due to state elections that will be held next year in the above states – except Madhya Pradesh – with Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party facing an image perception problem because of the contentious reforms.

The federal government’s proposal has said that a new committee will be formed to look into the issue of support prices which will include leaders of farmer unions to take note of their concerns.

The government has also promised to hold discussions on the Electricity (Amendment) Bill with the farmer leaders, before the bill is introduced.

Earlier, the government had agreed to decriminalise stubble burning penalties on farmers.

Farmer leader Shiv Kumar Kakka said on Thursday that this was a “historic win for farmers” and apologised to those who faced problems due to the protests, reported news agency Press Trust of India.

Thousands of farmers continued to brave extreme weather conditions as they camped in tents at Delhi’s borders for 13 months.

The farm bills, which were purportedly meant to reform Indian agriculture, were rushed through parliament without any discussion with stakeholders or opposition parties prompting nationwide protests by farmers, who claimed the laws would instead put them at the mercy of the private sector.

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