India Court Stops Modi From Executing Laws That Spurred Protests

(Bloomberg) -- India’s Supreme Court put on hold the implementation of three controversial farm laws, a setback for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Sharad A. Bobde also formed a panel to facilitate talks with tens of thousands of farmers staging protests on the outskirts of the national capital for nearly two months. The judges said they will resume hearing on Monday. The lawyer for one of the big farmers union Dushyant Dave did not join the hearing.

The order, an attempt to find a way out of the stalemate between the government and protesters, comes a day after the Chief Justice Bobde said the court was “extremely disappointed at the way the government has handled all this”. Several rounds of talks with leaders representing farmers have failed even as over 60 farmers are reported to have lost their lives braving cold weather.

The court refused to give more time to the government to find a solution and said the panel will hold discussion with both the parties. It will submit a report to the court, the bench said without specifying a deadline. A detailed order is awaited.

The government maintains that the farmers are being misled and the new laws that lift curbs 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.

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