India offers to suspend farm reforms

Farmers may call off protests

New Delhi | Reuters — India’s government on Wednesday offered to suspend implementation of three new farm laws that have triggered the biggest farmers’ protests in years, which farm union leaders said they would now consider calling off.

The cornerstone of the reform, introduced in September, allows private buyers to deal directly with farmers.

Angry farmers, who say that will make India’s traditional wholesale markets irrelevant and leave them at the mercy of big retailers and food processors, have camped out on major highways outside New Delhi for more than two months.

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Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government was open to suspending the laws for up to 18 months, during which time representatives of the government and farmers should work to “provide solutions” for the industry.

Bilateral talks have so far failed to break the deadlock — landing Prime Minister Narendra Modi with one of his most significant challenges since he was re-elected in 2019.

The next round of talks is due on Friday, and farm leader Dharmendra Malik said the unions would let the government know then if they would accept the offer and call off the protests.

The government was “sympathetic to farmers’ concerns and is trying to end the stalemate,” it said in a statement, thanking them for maintaining “peace and discipline” during the protests.

Farmers plan a tractor rally through New Delhi on Tuesday, India’s Republic Day, which the Supreme Court on Wednesday declined a government petition to ban.

— Reporting for Reuters by Mayank Bhardwaj; additional reporting by Suchitra Mohanty and Nigam Prusty.

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