Indian farmer groups have called for a nationwide strike against bills they say will endanger their livelihoods. The government insists that the legislation will free the farmers from bureaucratic red tape.
Farmers in India’s northwestern Punjab and Haryana states have been sitting and lying on train tracks since Friday morning, denouncing a set of bills recently approved by the parliament. Protest rallies previously took place in several northern and southern states. Dozens of farmer organizations have backed the protests, calling for a nationwide strike.
The three bills were passed last week though a voice vote amid an uproar in the upper house of the parliament resulting in the opposition boycotting the parliament proceedings. The legislation is aimed at eliminating middlemen and red tape in order to allow more options for farmers to sell their crops.
However, farmers are afraid the changes would lead the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices and leave the agriculture community at the mercy of large corporations. Their fears are shared by some state leaders.
Punjab’s chief minister, Amarinder Singh, pledged on Thursday to do “what it takes to save my farmers and my state from these dangerous new laws, whose implementation will cripple the farming sector and also destroy Punjab’s lifeline of agriculture.”
In an op-ed published in the Indian Express, Singh claimed that the bills would leave the “helpless” small farmers at the mercy of “the big sharks” of the market.
The government, meanwhile, insists that the legislation is designed to free the farmers from inter-state barriers, antiquated bureaucracy, and monopolies.
Housing and Urban Affairs Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said that, despite the fears, the government-run procurement of crops will continue. The bill will create “an ecosystem where farmers and traders enjoy the freedom of choice of sale and purchase of farming produce,” he wrote in an op-ed earlier this week.
For decades, the Indian farmer was bound by various constraints and bullied by middlemen. The bills passed by Parliament liberate the farmers from such adversities. These bills will add impetus to the efforts to double income of farmers and ensure greater prosperity for them.
On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the passing of the bills as a “watershed moment in the history of Indian agriculture.” Addressing a virtual meeting of ruling BJP party leaders on Friday, Modi blasted the opposition for “misleading” farmers.
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