A UN HUMAN RIGHTS EXPERT has welcomed India’s decision to repeal three contentious farm laws that sparked a year of nationwide protests which left 600 people dead. He has also urged the Government to ensure accountability for casualties.

“What was at stake with these laws was the stability of India’s entire food system”, said Michael Fakhri, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food,“Let’s hope that subsequent actions on reforming Indian agriculture are informed by the country’s human rights commitments and taken through meaningful consultations with farmers, communities and unions.”

The three agricultural laws, which aimed to deregulate the market, were passed in 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. They were widely criticised for having been rushed through Parliament without sufficient consultation with affected communities. In a surprise announcement on 19 November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the laws would be repealed at the next session of the Parliament.

Along with other UN experts, the Special Rapporteur has engaged the Government regarding the laws’ potential to detrimentally impact the right to food, and the severe restrictions on fundamental freedoms authorities imposed amid the demonstrations.

“While I acknowledge the lengthy process that preceded the passing of the laws, what ensued over the last year is an indication of the deep dissatisfaction felt by hundreds of thousands of people”, Fakhri said. “It also illustrates that freedom of expression is a valuable tool for empowering people to influence policy change through mobilisation and peaceful protest.”

On defining the way forward, the UN expert suggested drawing important lessons for public decision-making related to food security in India. “We should reflect on questions on what meaningful public consultations should ideally entail, and how a more participatory approach could lead to more popular decisions. The Government should consider how agricultural reforms can be implemented in full respect and fulfilment of the country’s economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to food.”

“India’s supreme court played an important role when it ordered the Government to provide more time and space to hear farmers’ grievances”, Fakhri said. “Now, to truly turn the page on this painful chapter, it is incumbent on the authorities to heed calls for accountability concerning more 600 casualties reported during the protests, and guarantee measures to prevent any repetition of such events.”

The expert’s call was endorsed by: Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; David Boyd, Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

* Source: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights