India’s Top Court Proposes to Put Three New Farm Laws on Hold

(Bloomberg) -- India’s Supreme Court has said it proposes to put three controversial farm laws on hold, a move that could possibly end the stalemate between Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration and tens of thousands of farmers protesting for nearly three months now.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde said Monday that a final order in the matter will be announced in a day or two. During the hearing, he said the court was “extremely disappointed at the way the government has handled all this” and questioned the government’s consultative process before adopting the farm laws.

“You tell us if you can put the laws on hold otherwise we’ll do it,” Bobde said. “What is the prestige involved in that?”

A stay on the implementation of the legislation will be a respite to farmers who have camped on a major roadway while braving the cold on the outskirts of the national capital New Delhi. Over 60 protesters have been reported dead and several rounds of negotiations between government and farm leaders have been inconclusive so far. A resolution of the issue from the court could pave a way out from the current impasse for the government.

Appearing for a group of farmers, lawyer Dushyant Dave told the court that over 400 unions from across the country and over 100,000 people were participating in the protests. “It is a question of farmers’ existence.”

Chief Justice Bobde said the proposed order to put the new farm laws on hold and forming a panel to hold discussions is to facilitate dialog and resolve the issue.

The government had asked the court for time until Jan. 15, when farm leaders are slated to meet senior government ministers next, but the chief justice said, “we have to take some action today. We do not believe you’re being effective.”

The government says the farmers are being misled and the new laws lifting restrictions on who can purchase agricultural produce will remove middlemen and increase farmers income. Modi had in his first term promised to double farmers’ incomes by 2022. Protesting farmers, opposition parties, and some of Modi’s allies fear that private companies might replace existing middlemen and the absence of guaranteed government-set minimum price will force them to make distress sales.