By Rishika Singh, BA Politics and International Relations
Farmers in India carried out a large tractor rally in New Delhi on 26 January during India’s Republic Day celebrations to protest three controversial farm bills that were enacted by the central government last September. The decision to continue protests comes in light of the tenth round of talks between the Farmer Unions and the Indian Government resulting in a deadlock.
‘The protesting farmers, many over the age of 60, have been met with police barricades, water cannons, and teargas shells.’
Farmers across the country, particularly in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting at state borders to Delhi for over two months against the bills. The protesting farmers, many over the age of 60, have been met with police barricades, water cannons, and teargas shells.
The three laws – the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Act, Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act – were passed by the central government as emergency ordinances in June 2020, and later passed in September 2020 without adequate debate or discussion in the Parliament. Farmer Unions and Opposition leaders have since shown dissatisfaction over not being consulted before passing the legislation.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has repeatedly defended the farm laws, insisting that they are crucial to boost the agriculture sector through private investment. Weakening the pre-existing state controlled APMC ‘mandi’ market system, the new laws allow farmers to sell directly to private companies, thereby allowing farmers to sell beyond their designated districts.
Angry farmers have however rejected the bills, deeming them ‘anti-farmer’ laws as they leave vulnerable agricultural workers at the mercy of big corporations. Farmers also suspect that the laws are only the first step to completely liberalise the agricultural sector, and that the government plans to do away with MSP (Minimum Support Price), further leaving small farmers vulnerable to exploitation by big corporations.
While none of the three bills mention MSP, Modi’s government has made verbal promises to assure the farmers that the MSP system will be retained. Farmer Unions, however, seem hesitant to trust the government, and among other things demand making the purchase of crops at MSP rates compulsory – a demand that the central government has refused.
The laws were temporarily stayed by the Supreme Court of India in January, with the court appointing a committee to mediate and resolve the stand-off between the government and the Farmer Unions. However, the farmers have refused to cooperate with the committee, accusing its members of being biased against the farmers.
Talks between Farmer Unions and Home Minister Amit Shah have largely remained inconclusive, with ten rounds of talks failing to end the deadlock. In what was seen as the biggest concession yet, the Government proposed to suspend the farm laws for a time period of eighteen months and appoint a committee to placate the farmers’ concerns. Rejecting the proposal, the Samyukta Kishan Moracha (United Farmers’ Front) and other Farmer Unions have claimed that protests will not cease till there is a complete scrapping of the laws.
In light of the failure of their eleventh round of talks with the government, the protesting farmers’ tractor rally on New Delhi’s busy Outer Ring Road on India’s Republic Day went ahead as planned.
Photo caption: An estimated 200,000 and 300,000 farmers have been protesting at various state borders on the way to Delhi since November 30th (Credit: Aalekh Dhaliwal).