New Delhi, Sep 21 (efe-epa).- Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday defended a set of laws proposed by his government for what he termed as “historic” agricultural reforms, amid strong criticism from opponents, allies, and threats of protests from farming communities.
Two of the draft laws defended by Modi were approved on Sunday by the Rajya Sabha (upper house), and a few days earlier by the Lok Sabha (lower house), where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enjoys a majority.
These proposals promise to ease regulations in the farming sector and push them towards free trade, which, according to critics, puts an already quite unprotected sector at considerable risk.
“After these historical changes in the field of farming. After such a large-scale structural change, some people can see control slipping out of their hands,” Modi said in a video address on Monday, targeting the critics.
The peasants, who are the country’s primary workforce, are one of the most oppressed sections in India, as they face poor income, uncertain future, growing desertion, and account for thousands of suicides every year due to high debt.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, passed on Sunday, allows farmers to sell their products anywhere – doing away with the obligation to bring their produce to a government center – and compete directly in the supply chain.
This also implies freedom to trade within and between states.
The second draft law, or the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill creates a legal framework for producers and buyers to fix a quantity of production and a price before harvest.
This aims to reduce the risk of production, which falls on the farmer, and the fluctuation of market prices.
Despite the majority enjoyed by the BJP, the initiatives has led to a backlash from the opposition, as well as some allies of the ruling party.
Eight opposition lawmakers, who opposed the passage of the bills, started a protest Monday inside the house by refusing to leave their seats despite being suspended by the Speaker.
The lawmakers were suspended for showing aggression during the debates, and even breaking a microphone after learning that the parliament’s television channel had broadcast their criticism without sound.
“‘Muting Of Democratic India’ continues: by initially silencing and later, suspending MPs in the Parliament and turning a blind eye to farmers’ concerns on the black agriculture laws,” Rahul Gandhi, one of the main leaders of the opposition Congress party, tweeted.
“This ‘omniscient’ Govt’s endless arrogance has brought economic disaster for the entire country,” he added.
Minister of Food Processing Industries Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the only member of the Shiromani Akali Dal – an ally of the government – in Modi’s cabinet, resigned on Friday in protest against the imminent approval of the laws that she considered “anti-farmer.”
If the government eliminates its Minimum Support Price (MSP) for purchasing crops, critics fear that producers will be left without bargaining power for selling their goods.
Farmers guilds, mainly from the agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana, have called for protests against the bills in the coming days.
Modi has underlined that these laws will ensure a complete transformation of the agricultural sector and empower millions of farmers.
“I want to assure every farmer, that the MSP system will continue as earlier. Every season, the government campaigns to purchase crops will also continue as before,” he said.
These bills come at a time when the central government has imposed a ban on the export of onions due to an increase in prices in the country.