12/02/2020, 12.42
INDIA
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Mass protest by farmers against agricultural reform reaches Delhi

by Nirmala Carvalho

Farmers are camped just outside the capital. Police have used water cannons and tear gas to stop protestors. Talks between government and protest leaders have stalled. Farmers are against full liberalisation. A minimum price for agricultural products will be guaranteed, Prime Minister Modi says.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped outside the capital for seven days to protest against the recent reform of the agricultural sector. They arrived last weekend on foot and on tractors from the states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

The police, deployed in force, stopped them with water cannons and tear gas at the three access points to the metropolis.

Protesters are sleeping on the street or in makeshift shelters; different places of prayer are helping them with food. The siege has blocked city traffic.

According to the India Brand Equity Foundation, agriculture is the primary source of income for 58 per cent of the Indian population. In recent years, recurrent droughts have negatively impacted farmers’ revenues, whose situation has been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legislation passed at the end of September liberalises the agricultural market, allowing Indian farmers to sell to anyone at any price, instead of selling to local market committees for a fixed price.

Farmers, especially small ones, want to reverse the reform and restore the previous "managed" system. Alternatively, they demand at least a guaranteed minimum price for their products.

So far, talks between protest leaders and the government have not achieved any results. A new round of meetings is scheduled for tomorrow.

The authorities propose the establishment of an ad hoc committee to assess the demands of the demonstrators.

On behalf of the farmers’ union, Jagmohan Singh, general secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union of Punjab, rejected this proposal. For farmers, the creation of government committees is just a waste of time.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has defended the initiative, stating that it will bring great benefits to tens of millions of farmers because it will encourage greater intra and interstate trade in agricultural products.

Government supporters note that the legislation does not dismantle the system for purchasing rice and grains by public agencies, and does not eliminate the guaranteed minimum price of agricultural products.

However, for many observers, government buyers will struggle against large private companies in a competitive market.

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