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Farmers reject Indian government's offer to suspend new laws

Farmer leaders on Thursday rejected an offer from the Indian government to suspend contentious agricultural reform laws for 18 months and set up a committee to look into their concerns about the legislation that have triggered the biggest farmers’ protests in years.

Tens and thousands of farmers have been blocking key highways connecting the capital with the country’s north for nearly two months and have threatened to intensify their protest by organizing a massive tractor rally in New Delhi during Republic Day celebrations on Jan. 26.

Angry farmers say the legislation passed by Parliament in September will lead to the cartelization and commercialization of agriculture, make farmers vulnerable to corporate greed and devastate their earnings.

Indian farmers gather in protest against new farm laws at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, India, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Farmers have been blockading highways connecting New Delhi to northern India for nearly seven weeks against new farm laws, obstructing transportation and dealing a blow to manufacturing and businesses in the north. Farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and that corporations will then push prices down under the new laws. (AP PhotoAltaf Qadri)

The government insists the laws will benefit farmers and boost production through private investment. It has repeatedly ruled out withdrawing the laws, but says it could make some amendments.

Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or United Farmers’ Front, a coalition of farmers' unions, said in a statement that they rejected the government proposal and will settle for nothing less than a complete repeal of the laws.

“This peaceful movement is becoming a people’s movement and getting nationwide,” the statement said.

Farmers sit around a bonfire on a blocked highway in protest against new farm laws at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, outskirts of New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Farmers have been blockading highways connecting New Delhi to northern India for nearly seven weeks against new farm laws, obstructing transportation and dealing a blow to manufacturing and businesses in the north. Farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and that corporations will then push prices down under the new laws. (AP PhotoAltaf Qadri)

The proposal to the farmers' leaders was made during the 10th round of talks between the two sides on Wednesday.

Last week, India’s Supreme Court temporarily delayed the implementation of the laws and formed a committee of experts to negotiate with farmers.

Farmer leaders raised doubts about the panel’s composition and said they would not appear before it. They said all four members have publicly favored the legislation.

A farmer drinks tea as he participates in protest against new farm laws at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, India, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Farmers have been blockading highways connecting New Delhi to northern India for nearly seven weeks against new farm laws, obstructing transportation and dealing a blow to manufacturing and businesses in the north. Farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and that corporations will then push prices down under the new laws. (AP PhotoAltaf Qadri)

Indian Farmer leaders arrive for the 10th round of meetings with the government, in New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Farmers have been blockading highways connecting New Delhi to northern India for nearly seven weeks against new farm laws, obstructing transportation and dealing a blow to manufacturing and businesses in the north. Farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and that corporations will then push prices down under the new laws. (AP PhotoRishabh Jain)

Farmers sit around a bonfire while blocking a major highway in a protest against new farm laws at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, India, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Farmers have been blockading highways connecting New Delhi to northern India for nearly seven weeks against new farm laws, obstructing transportation and dealing a blow to manufacturing and businesses in the north. Farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and that corporations will then push prices down under the new laws. (AP PhotoAltaf Qadri)

An elderly farmer sits in the back of a tractor trolly as they block a highway in protest against new farm laws at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, outskirts of New Delhi, India, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Farmers have been blockading highways connecting New Delhi to northern India for nearly seven weeks against new farm laws, obstructing transportation and dealing a blow to manufacturing and businesses in the north. Farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and that corporations will then push prices down under the new laws. (AP PhotoAltaf Qadri)

Farmers sit next to a small bonfire at sunset at a protest site against new farm laws at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, India, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Farmers have been blockading highways connecting New Delhi to northern India for nearly seven weeks against new farm laws, obstructing transportation and dealing a blow to manufacturing and businesses in the north. Farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and that corporations will then push prices down under the new laws. (AP PhotoAltaf Qadri)

Farmers cook food for fellow farmers in the middle of a major highway which is blocked in a protest against new farm laws at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh state border, India, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021. Farmers have been blockading highways connecting New Delhi to northern India for nearly seven weeks against new farm laws, obstructing transportation and dealing a blow to manufacturing and businesses in the north. Farmers fear the government will stop buying grain at minimum guaranteed prices and that corporations will then push prices down under the new laws. (AP PhotoAltaf Qadri)