Why Indian farmers are protesting against new farm bills

Farmers in several Indian states are protesting against three new bills the government says will open up the tightly-controlled agriculture sector to free-market forces.

The bills, passed by India’s parliament this week, make it easier for farmers to sell their produce directly to private buyers and enter into a contract with private companies. The government hopes private sector investments will stimulate growth.

Part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agricultural reform policy, the laws will also allow traders to stock food items. Hoarding food items for the purpose of making a profit was a criminal offence in India.

The main opposition Congress party has called the bills “black law” and “pro-corporate”. Its top leader Rahul Gandhi accused Modi of “making farmers ‘slaves’ of the capitalists…”.

But Modi has defended the move. “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,” he said in a Twitter post.

Under the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act passed in 1964, it was compulsory for farmers to sell their produce at government-regulated markets, or mandis, where middlemen helped growers sell harvests to either the state-run company or private players.The new laws give farmers additional choices to sell their produce anywhere in the country, in contrast to the earlier situation where inter-state trade was not allowed.

 

State governments, which earn an income through transactions at mandis, stand to lose out on tax revenues as trade moves out of state or into the domain of private deals.

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