Indian farmers reject government’s offer to suspend new laws

Farming leaders have rejected an offer from the Indian government to suspend contentious agricultural laws for 18 months and set up a committee to look into their concerns about the legislation that have triggered the biggest farmers’ protests in years.

Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or United Farmers’ Front, a coalition of farmers’ unions, said in a statement on Thursday that they rejected the government proposal and will settle for nothing less than a complete repeal of the laws.

“This peaceful movement is becoming a people’s movement and getting nationwide,” the statement said.

The proposal to the farmers’ leaders was made during the 10th round of talks between the two sides on Wednesday.

Tens and thousands of farmers have been blocking key highways connecting the capital with the country’s north for nearly two months and have threatened to intensify their protest by organising a big tractor rally in New Delhi during Republic Day celebrations on January 26.

Angry farmers say the legislation passed by Parliament in September will lead to the commercialisation of agriculture and cartels being formed and make farmers vulnerable to corporate greed and devastate their earnings.

The government insists the laws will benefit farmers and boost production through private investment. It has repeatedly ruled out withdrawing the laws but says it could make some amendments.

Last week, India’s Supreme Court temporarily delayed the implementation of the laws and formed a committee of experts to negotiate with farmers.

Farming leaders raised doubts about the panel’s composition and said they would not appear before it. They said all four members have publicly favoured the legislation.

Bhupinder Singh Mann, one of the four members, later recused himself from the Supreme Court-appointed panel.

“As a farmer myself and a union leader, in view of the prevailing sentiments and apprehensions amongst the farm unions and the public in general, I am ready to sacrifice any position offered or given to me so as to not compromise the interests of Punjab and farmers of the country,” Mann said in a statement.

Mann comes from the northern state of Punjab, one of India’s breadbasket states whose politically influential farmers have been at the vanguard of the agitation against the new farm laws.

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