Farmers rally over legislation
NEW DELHI: Angry farmers took to the streets and blocked roads and railways across India yesterday, intensifying protests over major new farming legislation they say will benefit only big corporates.
The plight of farmers is a major political issue in India, with some 70% of rural households depending primarily on agriculture and thousands of farmers killing themselves in recent years because of debt and drought.
The legislation passed by parliament in chaotic scenes on Sunday means farmers no longer have to sell to statecontrolled markets at fixed prices, freeing them to supply to any buyer they choose and getting rid of middlemen.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the legislation would achieve a “complete transformation of the agriculture sector” and empower “tens of millions of farmers”, while encouraging muchneeded investment and modernisation.
But critics say the changes will leave farmers at the mercy of large corporations by taking away their bargaining power.
Yesterday, hundreds of farmers from Punjab and Haryana states — the biggest producers of wheat and rice — blocked highways and railway tracks, shouting anti-government slogans.
Images showed protesters with yellow and green flags sitting on the roadside with placards in Punjab state, where many shops and business establishments were shut.
In Karnataka, farmers stopped the entry of vehicles on the borders of Bangalore.
Over 100 farmer unions were taking part, although coronavirus fears kept some people away, Bhupinder Singh Mann, president of the All India Kisan Coordination Committee said.
“The government is trying to exploit the farmers, they don’t care about us,” Mr Mann said.
The opposition says the government took advantage of coronavirus by reducing parliamentary debating time and pushing through the three bills and other contentious legislation without proper scrutiny.
Farmers block a national highway during a protest against farm bills passed by parliament in the northern state of Punjab, India yesterday.