The immovable object and the unstoppable force shifted and paused. But while the government offered the agitating farmers that it would hold the new farm laws in abeyance for 18 months — as a committee thrashes out differences between the farmers and government on the substance of the laws — the farmers have rejected this compromise.

Even the tractor rally the farmers have planned for Republic Day, a symbolic act that should have been withdrawn after GoI’s temporary ‘rollback’, remains rather inexplicably on schedule. We urge GoI to take independent action to realise profitable crop diversification on the ground in the major grain-growing regions of Punjab and Haryana, while the committee is at work.

And we urge protesting farmers to not get besotted by their own protestations. It would have been ideal if consensus could have been reached on the substance of the new farm laws, as they chart a path out of the status quo that has become unviable on both economic and environmental grounds.

India today produces far more grain than it consumes, spends far too much on that excess production and damages the environment, by depleting groundwater and turning the soil toxic. It must move out of open-ended procurement of rice and wheat at ever-rising support prices. Farmers are told that the laws seek to enrich large companies at their expense.

It is desirable, therefore, that reform is implemented on the ground, even as negotiations proceed in a committee. India imports edible oil, fruit and pulses even today. The point is to move out of grain to these crops and others such as flowers, for which the market only grows.

The farmers had been unwilling to negotiate on anything other than outright repeal of the new laws, and the government had refused to postpone implementation of the laws. Such rigidity on either side had thwarted a solution. We hope better sense will prevail now, and the farmers lift their siege of Delhi.

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