Thousands of farmers in India blocked roads and railway tracks on Friday in a protest against new farm bills. They say these could pave the way for the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices. And also, these bills would leave them at the mercy of private players, they added.
Modi, who was re-elected with an overwhelming majority in 2019, now faces the biggest farmers’ protest just weeks before an assembly election in Bihar, India’s third-most populous state.
Defending the bills, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government says the reforms would help rid India’s agriculture sector of antiquated laws. Moreover, it would allow farmers to sell their produce to institutional buyers and big retailers such as Walmart.
The three bills are: The Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020: and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020.
However, the government insists that the new rules would give farmers the option to sell their produce to private buyers. But, at the same time it would still purchase staples such as rice and wheat at guaranteed prices.
But such assurances have failed to mollify millions of farmers.
With the nationwide shutdown called by India’s leading farmers’ organisations, growers held demonstrations in many parts of the country. They also blocked highways leading to New Delhi using trucks, tractors and combine harvesters.
Farmer Karam Singh accused the government of trying to make traditional wholesale markets redundant. Farmer leaders say India’s over 7,000 regulated wholesale markets have played a crucial role in ensuring timely payments to growers.
“The private sector will give us a good price for one or two years, but what about after that?” he asked. “The government should guarantee the private sector will give us more than the government price.”
Besides in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, farmers held protests in the eastern states of Odisha and West Bengal.
Protests in Gujarat
Farmers’ bodies also organised protests in Modi’s home state of Gujarat in eastern India.
The protests have remained peaceful. But the farmers, who hit the streets, did not wear face masks despite a surge in coronavirus cases in India.
Authorities on Friday had to cancel several train services as farmers blocked railway tracks.
Police in various states have beefed up security in the hope of heading off any violence, especially around New Delhi.
Meanwhile, thousands of peasants took to the streets all over Maharashtra. They raising slogans, carrying banners and posters protested against what they termed as “the anti-farmers” law recently passed by Parliament.
The Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, All India Kisan Sabha, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana and other major farmers organisations in the state supported the agitation.
The farmers also held protests in Mumbai, Thane, Palghar, Pune, Kolhapur, Nashik, Nandurbar, Jalna, Beed, Aurangabad, Nanded, Yavatmal and Buldhana.