4 October 2021   Leave a comment

Farmers in India have been protesting against changes in agricultural laws for over a year. The changes were passed by the government of Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in in September 2021. The changes are described by Lawfare:

“Modi’s government passed the three farming laws in September to dramatically change the decades-old system of selling agricultural goods in India in an effort to resolve India’s long-standing agricultural crisis: Nearly half of India’s workforce is employed in agriculture, but farming makes up only around 15 percent of the country’s gross domestic product—a portion that is declining steadily. More than half of farming households are in debt, which has contributed to a crisis of suicide among farmers….

“The current agriculture system dates back to the decades after India’s independence. In the 1960s, with food shortages plaguing the country, the Indian government intervened in what is known as the ‘Green Revolution’ by introducing new technologies to increase the production of rice and wheat. At that time, the government also created a new food marketing system. The system is complicated and varies across states, but, essentially, it involves farmers bringing crops to wholesale markets known as mandis and selling the crops to traders in an open auction. The mandis are run by a marketing board established by the state to prevent farmers from being exploited by large retailers. Prices can be informed by minimum support prices (MSPs)—prices set by the government and at which it buys crops in certain states.

“The three new laws each deregulate a different aspect of the agricultural system: the sale, pricing and storage of goods. They allow farmers to sell their goods to private buyers outside the state-run markets and create a system for contract farming. Taken together, the laws reduce the government’s role in agriculture and open up spaces for private investors.

“The government argues that the deregulations increase efficiency, allow farmers greater freedom and let farmers negotiate better prices for their crops. But farmers say these reforms will devastate their earnings. Many worry that by allowing farmers to bypass the state-sanctioned marketplaces and sell directly to private buyers without paying the taxes or fees required by state-run markets, the laws will gradually make the mandi system obsolete. Protesting farmers’ biggest fear is that this dismantling of the mandis will end the MSPs—a safety net that assures farmers that they will be paid a certain price without regard to market conditions. Without MSPs, farmers would be at the mercy of private companies that have no obligation to pay them the guaranteed minimum price. The bills say nothing about the MSPs, and Modi has promised that they will remain. Still, protesters are skeptical and have demanded that the government make its promise in writing.

The protests have continued and have been violent at times. Yesterday, nine people were killed in the protests. The Guardian reports:

“Nine people have been killed in violent clashes during a protest by hundreds of farmers in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, in a deadly escalation of year-long demonstrations against contentious agriculture laws.

“The farmers had gathered for a demonstration on Sunday in Lakhimpur Kheri district, where the junior home affairs minister Ajay Mishra and the state’s deputy chief minister, Keshav Prasad Maurya, were due to visit.

“There are conflicting reports of how four farmers, three BJP party workers, a driver and a journalist died as chaotic scenes broke out around vehicles that were part of Mishra’s convoy.

“Farmers at the scene alleged that a car thought to be owned by Mishra’s son ran over four protesters, killing them.”

The farmers will likely step up their protests and there is evidence that there is significant support for the farmers. The popularity of the Modi government has declined in recent months, largely because of the COVID pandemic. Whether these protests signal significant trouble for Modi remains to be seen.

Posted October 4, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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