“Today I have come to tell you, the whole country, that we have decided to withdraw all three agricultural laws,” Modi said on Friday in an address to the nation coinciding with a major Sikh festival – the religion of many protesting farmers.
“In the Parliament session starting later this month, we will complete the constitutional process to repeal these three agricultural laws.”
Protests to Escalate in India if Modi Keeps Anti-Farmers Laws
The legislation the farmers object to, introduced in September last year, deregulates the sector, allowing farmers to sell produce to buyers beyond government-regulated wholesale markets, where growers are assured of a minimum price (MSP).
Small farmers reject the changes making them vulnerable to competition from big business, claiming they could eventually lose price support for staples like wheat and rice.
The government claims reforms for a sector accounting for 15 percent of the $2.7 trillion economy, means new opportunities and better prices for farmers.
"The laws were to empower small farmers, but the government failed to convince some farmers who have been opposing the new laws," Modi said.
Rakesh Tikait of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Indian Farmers Union) said the farmers’ “agitation will not be withdrawn immediately”.
“We will wait for the day when agricultural laws will be repealed in Parliament. Along with MSP, the government should also discuss other issues of farmers,” he tweeted.
The government had so far yielded little to the demonstrations that posed a major challenge to Modi, who won the elections for the second time in 2019.
Farmers escalated their movement last November by hunkering down on the outskirts of New Delhi, where they have camped for nearly a year, including through the winter and a Covid surge that devastated India earlier this year.
While the farmers’ protest movement has been largely peaceful, last month, eight people were killed during protests in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state, where Modi’s BJP hopes to retain power in assembly elections due early next year.
Four farmers also died when a convoy allegedly belonging to a government minister and his son slammed into a group of protesters at Lakhimpur Kheri district in Uttar Pradesh.
Angry demonstrators later set fire to several cars and four other people died.
While the protests have thinned out in recent months, a hardcore contingent remains and major demonstrations were expected for the one-year anniversary of the start of the rallies later this month.
Mahua Moitra, a legislator from the Trinamool Congress Party and one of Modi’s staunchest critics, said on Twitter of the decision: "Just the beginning of many more victories for people’s voices.”