Farmers in India Continue Protesting New Farm Bills

Protesters converge on capital region . . . 

Indian authorities allowed large swaths of protesting farmers to move into the New Delhi capital area on Friday after blasting them with water cannons, tear gas, and baton charges. On Saturday, thousands more farmers arrived in trucks and buses and set up highway blockades. On Sunday, they rejected the government’s offer to hold immediate talks under the condition that they end the blockades and restrict their activities to government-designated areas. Protesters throughout the country say that three new agriculture bills could devastate crop prices and increase farmers’ vulnerability, and they are demanding the government withdraw the laws. The capital region protests are just the latest round of protests since the government passed the bills as ordinances in June and then pushed them through parliament in September.

The three bills in question . . .

The national government sees the three bills as a much-needed move to revive the agriculture sector and boost the economy by increasing production through private investment. The three laws allow farmers to sell their products to markets other than the state Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs)-regulated markets and negotiate contracts directly with buyers. It could also mean that the government might stop buying grain at guaranteed prices and diminish Indian states’ role in managing the sector.

Balancing reform and support in massive ag sector?

The agriculture sector has long provided jobs for more than half of India’s working population. Yet, the economic power of the sector has been decreasing over the last three decades. This is attributed to sector-specific issues such as low productivity due to illiteracy, small landholdings, poor financing options, slow adoption of modern agriculture practices and technologies, and a broader national economic focus on manufacturing and services. But with so many people dependent on agriculture for their livelihood, all eyes will be watching to see how the new legislation will be carried out in practice, including whether the government’s promises of private investment materialize and at what cost to small farms, especially amidst the pandemic-induced economic turmoil.