India's Supreme Court puts controversial new farming laws on hold

Credit: AP

India's highest court has temporarily put on hold the implementation of controversial new agricultural laws - that have caused mass protests across the country.

The Supreme Court paused the bill and ordered that an independent committee of experts first be formed to negotiate with the farmers opposed to the legislation.

Judges ruled that the laws were passed without enough consultation, and that it was disappointed with the way talks were proceeding between representatives of the government and farming leaders.

Indian Farmers block a highway at the Delhi-Haryana border Credit: AP

Tens of thousands of people have protested against the legislation - blocking half a dozen major highways on the outskirts of New Delhi for more than 45 days.

Farmers say they won’t leave until the government repeals the laws.

The issue has reached the international stage too, with more than 100 MPs and Lords signing a cross-party letter asking Boris Johnson to convey concerns on the issue.

The proposed legislation would allow farmers to sell their produce directly to private buyers instead of going through the government-regulated markets called the ‘Mandis’.

Currently, the price of produce is decided at the market floor while assuring minimum supporting prices. 

Members of different farmer organisations march during a protest in Mumbai Credit: AP

But under the new law, critics fear the market would become unregulated - denying farmers the Minimum Support Price they want.

Agricultural workers fear the changes would make them vulnerable to corporate greed and devastate earnings.

The government insists the laws will benefit farmers and says they will enable farmers to market their produce and boost production through private investment.

Announcing the ruling, Chief Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde said the independent committee of experts would “amicably resolve” the standoff.

Farmers protest during nationwide shutdown over new agriculture laws Credit: AP

But farming unions rejected the idea of the expert committee and reiterated their demand for a total repeal of the laws.

During a virtual hearing on Monday, Bobde said that the impasse between the two sides was causing distress to farmers, and that the situation at the protest sites was only getting worse.

“Each one of us will be responsible if anything goes wrong,” Bobde told India’s attorney general, K.K. Venugopal, who was arguing for the government.

Representatives of the government and farmer leaders have failed to make progress during multiple rounds of talks over the farmers’ main demand that the laws be scrapped.

The government has ruled out withdrawing the laws, but says it could make some amendments.

The two sides are due to meet again on Friday.