Indian farmers call for nationwide strike as talks on new farm law failed

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Protesting Indian farmers have called for a ‘Bharat Bandh’ (nationwide strike) on December 08 after several rounds of talks with government representatives over the new farm laws did not yield any results.

Farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting on the outskirts of Delhi against the new farm laws passed by India’s parliament in September.

Tuesday’s strike follows three rounds of inconclusive talks between the two sides over laws that farmers say are against their interests.

At least 15 opposition parties have backed the call for the strike by farmers who have choked the entry points to the capital for almost two weeks now.

This came as another round of talks is expected to happen again on Dec. 09.

The governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the reforms, which allow private players a greater role in the farming sector, will not hurt farmers’ incomes.

But farmers are unconvinced. They are mainly concerned that the reforms will eventually lead to the end of wholesale markets and assured prices, leaving them with no back-up option.

In recent weeks, thousands marched upon Delhi, in a convoy of tractors and on foot. They were met at the border by barricades and clashed with police and paramilitary troops as they tried to enter the capital.

Although they were later allowed to enter the city, thousands of them are still at the borders, vowing not to leave until the government rolls back the reforms. The protest sites have since turned into camps, with entire families cooking and sleeping in the open.

The protests come even as the pandemic rages in India – although case counts have been dropping nationwide, Delhi has seen a sharp uptick in recent months.

Images of thousands of elderly farmers from Punjab and Haryana – known as the “food bowl” of India – being tear-gassed and sprayed with water in the winter could have won them tremendous public sympathy in India and also from the diaspora around the globe.

The farm bills roiled the country’s parliament when it was passed in September last year, which led to the suspension of eight opposition members.

At its core, the contentious reforms will loosen rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce – rules that have protected India’s farmers from an unfettered free market for decades.

They also allow private buyers to hoard essential commodities for future sales, which only government-authorised agents could do earlier; and they outline rules for contract farming, where farmers tailor their production to suit a specific buyer’s demand.

One of the biggest changes is that farmers will be allowed to sell their produce at a market price directly to private players – agricultural businesses, supermarket chains and online grocers.

Most Indian farmers currently sell the majority of their produce at government-controlled wholesale markets or mandis at assured floor prices.

The government has said the mandi system will continue, and they will not withdraw the floor prices they currently offer. But farmers are suspicious.

“First, farmers will feel attracted towards these private players, who will offer a better price for the produce. The government mandis will pack up meanwhile and after a few years, these players will start exploiting the farmers. That’s what we fear,” Multan Singh Rana, a farmer in the northern state of Punjab, told BBC Punjabi. (Source: BBC)

 

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