Farmers are organizing protests in several countries against the government opening up agriculture to the corporate sector.
Farmers in India blocked roads and railways on Friday in protest of new legislation that they say could pave the way for the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices, leaving it at the mercy of private buyers.
Large protests were organized in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, the country’s main food-growing countries.
As part of a nationwide shutdown called for by India’s leading farmers’ organizations, producers staged demonstrations in many parts of the country and blocked highways leading to New Delhi using trucks, tractors and harvesters.
Opposition parties and unions in several Indian states, including Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha and Karnataka, have voiced support for farmers as protests escalate against new laws passed earlier this week.
Authorities had to cancel several train lines on some routes on Friday as farmers began blocking highways and railways.
Modi’s government is defending the bills – recently approved by parliament – as reform measures that will help free the vast Indian agricultural sector from outdated laws and allow farmers to sell to institutional buyers and large retailers like Walmart.
“For decades, the Indian farmer has been subject to various restrictions and harassed by intermediaries. “Bills passed by Parliament relieve farmers of such hardships,” he said in a Twitter post.
The government also insists that the new rules allow farmers to sell their produce to private buyers, but will still buy basic products such as rice and wheat at guaranteed prices.
Part of Modi’s policy of agricultural reform, the laws will also allow traders to store food. Storing food for profit is a crime in India.
But such assurances have failed to soften the millions of farmers who make up an influential voting bloc in countries like Punjab and Haryana, India’s northern farming belt bordering New Delhi.
Modi, who was re-elected by an overwhelming majority in 2019, now faces the biggest farmers’ protest just weeks before the meeting in Bihar, India’s third most populous country.
Farmer Karam Singh has accused the government of trying to make traditional wholesale markets redundant. Farmer leaders say more than 7,000 regulated wholesale markets in India have played a crucial role in ensuring timely payments to producers.
Singh said the new law has made nearly 85 per cent of India’s poor farmers who own less than 2 hectares of land vulnerable to replacement by private buyers.
“The private sector will give us a good price in a year or two, but what do you say next?” He asked. “The government must ensure that the private sector gives us more than the state price.”
The main opposition party in Congress called the bills “black law” and “pro-corporate.” Its top leader, Rahul Gandhi, accused Modi of “making farmers ‘slaves’ of the capitalists …”.
Police in various states have stepped up security in hopes of preventing violence, especially around New Delhi.
Red tsunami in Karnataka. Mass protest of farmers and workers. # NoToFarmBills pic.twitter.com/0vc5x4evPc
– Marx (@ SDey83) September 25, 2020