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Indian farmers drew international attention over the weekend after a number of celebrities and public figures, including Rihanna, shared posts about the farmer protests in the country. Tens of thousands of farmers have been protesting in India for more than two months. Protesters have used tractors, lorries and boulders to create blockades and are calling for a repeal of this legislation.
More than half of India’s population work on farms, which is estimated to be around 650 million people.
Agriculture contributes to an estimated sixth of the country’s gross domestic product.
There are no official figures for rural household income in recent years, but there is data on agricultural wages which shows the rate of growth slowing down between 2014 and 2019.
However, due to rising inflation rates, consumer price inflation has grown from less than 2.5 percent in 2017 to 7.7 percent in 2019.
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Farmers have been protesting against three agricultural laws published by the Indian Government.
The agricultural laws will loosen the rules around the sale, pricing and storage of agricultural produce.
The protesters are also demanding minimum support prices for their produce.
Leaders from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) say the new farm laws will double farmers’ income – a promise made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2016.
Indian farmers want these laws to be scrapped and have joined protests led by farmers from Punjab and Haryana to campaign for these changes.
The Supreme Court of India has suspended the implementation of the laws and constituted a committee.
The executive cannot proceed with the implementation of the laws yet.
Specifically, the proposed Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act allows farmers to sell their produce outside the Agriculture Produce Markets Committees (APMC).
This means traders can purchase from a farmer at a mutually agreed price.
In addition, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act would allow farmers to do contract farming and market their produce freely.
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act will remove food grains, pulses, edible oils and onion from the essential list and make it unrestricted for trade except in extraordinary circumstances.
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However, farmers oppose these laws claiming they will deregulate crop pricing and eventually remove the Minimum Support Price (MSP).
The MSP guarantees farmers an income by establishing a uniform price for the crop.
Most farmers operate on a smaller-scale basis and have low annual incomes.
Indian farmers are unable to take their produce out of their district to trade due to the expense of enacting this move.
Protesting farmers believe the new laws will eventually lead to a consortium of private players which will leave the industry vulnerable to large business interference and market forces.
The protests became violent on January 26, which is India’s Republic Day.
A group of farmers driving tractors veered from the protester route and stormed the Red Fort, a historic fort in the city of Delhi.
Hundreds of police officers and farmers were injured in the move, with one protester dying during the incident.
Farmer leaders condemned the violence but said they would not call off the protest.
On Saturday, February 6, thousands of farmers blockaded main roads across India for several hours.
Tractors, lorries and boulders were used to blockade the roads, with activists carrying banners and flags during the protests.
Saturday’s blockade began at midday, lasting for three hours, and no violence was immediately reported.
Several rounds of talks between the farmers and the government have failed to produce any breakthroughs.
But the Government said the laws are necessary to modernise Indian agriculture.
The office of the UN high commissioner for human rights called on the authorities and protesters to exercise maximum restraint.
In the latest round of talks, the Government offered to suspend the laws for 12 to 18 months, but farmers unions rejected the offer.
Farmers unions across India are calling on the Indian Government to arrange a date for the next round of talks.
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