India’s top court puts controversial farm laws on hold

Thousands of farmers are protesting against the laws at the Delhi border

India’s Supreme Court has put on hold three contentious farm laws that have sparked weeks of protests.

Farmers have been camped at the borders of capital Delhi since 26 November to protest against laws that will further open up agriculture to the free market.

At least four farmers at the protest site have killed themselves, and several others have died from ailments and the harsh winter cold.

Meanwhile, several rounds of talks with the government have failed.

On Tuesday, the court stayed the implementation of the laws “until further notice”, and appointed an independent committee to broker a deal between the farmers and the government.

The farmer groups have repeatedly said that they will settle for nothing less than a repeal of the laws, and the government has ruled out any rollback.

In the face of this stalemate, the top court had agreed to hear a batch of petitions challenging the laws.

While the court refused to adjudicate on the laws themselves, Chief Justice Sharad Bobde said they would intervene to try and resolve the matter given the spate of deaths at the protests.

Many of the farmers are elderly and have been living out in the open in the bitter cold and rain for nearly two months now.

“Each one of us will be responsible if anything goes wrong. We don’t want anybody’s blood on our hands,” Justice Bobde said during the hearing in court.

He also criticised the government for its handling of the matter, describing it as “extremely disappointing”.

The government has said the reforms will not hurt farmers. But farm groups say the laws threaten decades-old concessions and subsidies they receive, thwart their bargaining power and expose them to the vagaries of the market and big corporate companies.