NEW DELHI (AP) — 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.

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.


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.