India: PM Modi pushes for new farmers bill despite massive protests

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Despite continued protest by farmers which is now on its fifth day, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday (Nov 30) resisted calls for the repeal of farm legislations that have triggered them to march towards the capital.

Three controversial agriculture bills passed by India’s parliament in September prompted thousands of people from the big farming state of Punjab to march and camped out on the outskirts of Delhi.

The farmers are demanding that they be allowed to stage protests in the city centre against the new laws that open up India’s tightly regulated farm produce market.

The new laws have opened up the purchase of agricultural produce to private companies including big food processing companies and retailers such as WalMart.

Previously farmers could sell grains and other products only at neighbouring government-regulated wholesale markets.

But farm groups and opposition parties say the government will eventually abolish the wholesale markets, where growers were assured of a minimum support price for staples like wheat and rice, leaving small farmers at the mercy of corporate agri-businesses.

Speaking at a public rally during a visit to his political constituency of Varanasi in northern India, Mr. Modi dismissed the fears as misplaced and that deregulation brought about by the new law would benefit them.

“The new agricultural laws have been brought in for benefit of the farmers. We will see and experience benefits of these new laws in the coming days,” he said.

He blamed the opposition for spreading rumours about the future of farmers.

The government says the deregulation of the sector will attract investment and fix the supply chains that lose a quarter of India’s produce to wastage.

But Mr Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the main opposition Congress party, said the new laws would benefit big business and accused Mr Modi of crony capitalism.

“Our farmers are standing up against the black laws, they have reached Delhi leaving their farms and families behind. Do you want to stand with them or with Modi’s capitalist friends?” he said in a tweet. (Source: The Straits Times)

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