India to repeal farm laws that prompted a year of protests

New Delhi, Nov. 19, (dpa/GNA) - Three controversial farm laws which have led to a year of protests by Indian farmers will be repealed, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Friday.

The announcement comes ahead of key state elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, which are home to India's largest farming communities.

Thousands of farmers who have been parked at the borders of the Indian capital for a year to protest the laws welcomed the decision but said they would not be leaving until the repeal process is initiated in parliament.

Farmers' groups have been demanding the withdrawal of the three agricultural laws which the government has said are needed to modernize the farming sector in what was seen as one of the biggest challenges to the Modi government so far.

The laws aim to ease regulations around the storage and marketing of crops, and farmers fear it is big corporations that will benefit and farmers that will be left at the mercy of the free market.

In an unexpected address to the nation, Modi said the laws were meant to empower small farmers. "Only a section of them was opposing the laws, but we kept trying to educate, inform them," he said.

Modi said the government had failed to convince a section of farmers of the benefits of the legislation and that the laws would be repealed in the winter session of parliament, which begins at the end of November.

Modi also apologised to those who had welcomed the laws, which he said would have transformed the sector.

Agriculture with its allied sectors is the largest source of livelihood in India and around 70 per cent of rural households still depend on it for a living.

The government has consistently refused to back down on the laws despite several rounds of talks with the farmers' leaders.

The stunning turnaround comes as a boost for the protesting farmers, who have been living on the highways leading to New Delhi.

According to farmers’ unions, more than 600 people have died during the protests, due to extreme heat, cold, Covid-19 and other factors.

"This is a big victory for the farmers ... seeing their poor prospects in the coming elections because of these laws, the government has been forced to withdraw them," said Deepak Lamba, president of the Jai Kisan Andolan, a forum for the protesting farmers.

“We don't trust the government and will wait for the laws to be repealed,” Rakesh Tikait, a farm union leader from Uttar Pradesh said.

"There are so many court cases against the farmers, those have to be taken back, our demand for a legal guarantee for a minimum support price for crops has not been met, our struggle will continue."

Modi’s announcement Friday came on Gurparab – a day the Sikhs celebrate the birth of the founder of Sikhism Guru Nanak. Sikhs are the majority population in Punjab.