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HUNDREDS of farmers’ organisations and 11 central trade unions joined national protests across India yesterday against new agricultural laws empowering agribusiness and corporations.
Tractors blocked roads into New Delhi while massive marches against the reforms took place in Andrah Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Punjab and other states under the aegis of the All India Farmers Struggle Co-ordination Committee.
The Congress party and the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) have denounced the way that the Bills were rushed through India’s upper house without proper scrutiny, being passed in a “voice vote” by which the Rajya Sabha’s deputy chairman (equivalent to deputy speaker in Britain) refused to allow a division and determined the outcome based on his judgement that the Ayes were louder than the Noes.
Members of several opposition parties said that their microphones were muted and they were prevented from speaking. They also report that the upper house was packed with security personnel to prevent dissent.
The communists say the Narendra Modi government has repeatedly used the Covid-19 crisis as an excuse to railroad contentious laws through parliament, passing “anti-farmer and anti-worker legislation.”
CPI-M newspaper People’s Democracy has denounced the Bills – which will become law once they receive formal presidential assent – as “a charter for exploitation of the farmers by big traders, agribusiness and corporates.” They allow private companies to stockpile foodstuffs, a right formerly reserved to state institutions, which will “facilitate hoarding … and be utilised for speculation in futures trading” while driving up consumer prices.
At the same time, price controls will be lifted on many basic foodstuffs, including rice, wheat, lentils, cotton, edible oils and onions. “What is being touted as ‘freedom for the farmer’ will in reality be freedom for the big traders-corporates to dictate prices to the farmer,” a People’s Democracy editorial argued.
It said that the Modi administration’s aim is to promote “corporatisation of agriculture and facilitate the integration of Indian agriculture with the global market,” undermining both farmers’ incomes and food security in the process.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi warned that the new agricultural laws will “enslave farmers.”
But Mr Modi claims that it will open a “new era” in which farmers can negotiate higher prices and enrich themselves. He has repeatedly issued statements seeking to reassure farmers that the state will continue to buy their products.
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