Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced the repeal of three controversial farm laws against which farmers have protested for more than a year, representing a significant backdown by the government.

Key points:

  • The laws were passed last year to modernise and deregulate India’s agricultural system 
  • Farmers argued the reforms would leave them at the mercy of big corporations 
  • Indian PM Narendra Modi says the government failed to convince farmers about the need for the laws

Mr Modi made the surprise announcement during a televised speech that was broadcast live. 

“In the parliament session starting later this month, we will complete the constitutional process to repeal these three agricultural laws.”

Farmers in India carry signs at a protest against farming laws.

While the farmers’ protests have been largely peaceful, last month eight people were killed in a deadly escalation of the year-long demonstration. (AP: Rafiq Maqbool)

Shock announcement after year-long protest 

The announcement came on the day of the Guru Purab festival, when Sikhism founder Guru Nanak’s birthday is celebrated, and ahead of key elections in states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

Most of the protesters were Sikh farmers from Punjab.

The government had so far yielded very little to the drawn-out demonstrations that posed one of the biggest political challenges to Mr Modi, who swept polls for the second time in 2019.

In November last year, the farmers escalated their movement by hunkering down on the outskirts of New Delhi, where they have camped out for nearly a year.

While the protest movement has been largely peaceful, demonstrators in January broke through police barricades to storm the historic Red Fort in New Delhi, with clashes with police leaving one protester dead and hundreds injured.

Last month, eight people were killed in Uttar Pradesh state in a deadly escalation of the demonstration.

An Indian man with a white beard speaks at a podium with his pointed hand in the air.

The protests posed one of the biggest political challenges to the Indian PM, who swept polls for a second time in 2019.(Reuters: Amit Dave)

Government failed to convince farmers, Indian PM admits

Mr Modi said the laws were meant to empower small farmers, but he admitted the government failed to convince some who opposed the reforms. 

The legislation the farmers object to, introduced in September last year, deregulates the sector, allowing farmers to sell produce to buyers beyond government-regulated wholesale markets, where growers are assured of a minimum price.

The government had defended the reforms, saying they were necessary to modernise India’s agricultural sector and to boost production through private investment. 

But small farmers protested, saying the laws would devastate their earnings by ending guaranteed pricing and forcing them to sell their crops to corporations at cheaper prices.

The government has argued reform of the sector, which accounts for about 15 per cent of the economy, would bring new opportunities and better prices for farmers.

ABC / wires

India to repeal controversial farm laws after more than a year of protests
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