India’s Parliament has voted to repeal agricultural reforms that provoked a year-long protest by farmers, following a surprise decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to roll back the contentious laws in what was seen as a rare retreat for the leader.
Both houses of Parliament passed the bill to withdraw the three laws via voice vote on Nov. 29, the first day Parliament reconvened its winter session, amid demands from the opposition to discuss the issue.
Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury questioned the government’s move which was done without discussion in the Parliament.
“When it is listed as consideration and passing of the bill, why can’t there be a debate? This government, since 2014, has been passing and repealing bills without any discussion. You have taken this House for a ride,” Chowdhury said reported The Indian Express.
Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge said the opposition Indian National Congress supported the repeal bill, but the government took a year and three months to roll back the laws.
Kharge accused the government of repealing the laws for the sake of the forthcoming elections.
The legislation, approved by Parliament in September last year, includes the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.
The government initially insisted that the legislation, which would open the way to a deregulated market and more private-sector control in agriculture, was urgently needed to modernize Indian farming.
Farmers began protesting against the three regulations in Punjab in July last year, fearful that the reform would result in decreased crop prices. Climate activist Greta Thunberg and pop artist Rihanna, among others, had also drawn attention to the statewide protests.
On Jan. 26, India’s Republic Day, the protests took a violent turn when thousands of farmers overwhelmed police and stormed the historic Red Fort in New Delhi after tearing down barricades and driving tractors through roadblocks.
Modi took his biggest policy reversal on Nov. 19 when he announced in a televised national address that the government would abolish the laws and implored farmers to return to their homes and “start afresh”.
The repeal bill will need to be signed by President Ram Nath Kovind before it is formally implemented. But farmers have said their demonstrations will continue.
Just last week, thousands of jubilant farmers on tractors, jeeps, and cars, waved green and white flags as they rode along highways ringing New Delhi to celebrate their victory, but made it clear that the government had not met all of their demands.
Rakesh Tikait, a top farmer leader, said they needed government assurances of guaranteed prices for certain essential crops, like wheat and rice—a system introduced in the 1960s to help India shore up its food reserves and prevent shortages.
Tikait called for the government to set up a committee to settle these demands before the farmers considered ending their protests.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.