NEW DELHI: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi (C) addresses the media upon his arrival to attend the winter session of the parliament in New Delhi yesterday. - AFP

NEW DELHI: India's parliament voted yesterday to scrap agricultural reform laws that sparked a year of huge protests by farmers, after a surprise U-turn by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Thousands of farmers have been camped out on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi since last year - one of the biggest challenges to Modi's Hindu nationalist government since he came to power in 2014.

The rallies became a lightning rod for discontent in a country where two-thirds of the 1.3 billion population rely on agriculture for their livelihood. In its first meeting for the winter session, both houses of India's parliament rushed through a bill to scrap the laws, after Modi's shock decision to reverse course earlier this month. But farmers' unions have vowed to keep up the fight against the government until they secure further concessions.

"First major victory of the farmers' movement today, while other important demands are still pending," said Samyukta Kisan Morcha, a coalition of farmers' groups, in a statement yesterday. They are seeking minimum prices for crops and compensation for the families of hundreds of farmers they say died during the protests, among other demands. "I don't think this government has any sympathy for farmers," Vishavjot Mann, who joined a weekend rally for agricultural workers in Mumbai, told AFP.

"The government have just announced that they will repeal the laws, not because they think that they were wrong but because they understand that these protests will hamper their election results," she added. Modi's reversal came ahead of important elections for his Bharatiya Janata Party in states including Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, both home to huge numbers of farmers. The government claimed the reforms, passed in September last year, aimed to deregulate farm produce markets. But farmers said the laws would lead to a corporate takeover of the industry. - AFP