SAWT BEIRUT INTERNATIONAL

| 8 December 2021, Wednesday |

Indian farmers hold mass rally, keep pressure on Modi despite climbdown

Following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s concession to demands that agricultural reform laws be repealed, Indian farmers held a mass rally on Monday to demand that minimum support prices be extended to all produce, not just rice and wheat.

Farmers’ protest movement, which began more than a year ago, became the most serious political challenge to the Hindu nationalist government, prompting Modi to make a surprise commitment to roll back the reforms on Friday.

Thousands gathered in Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, where Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party will seek to retain power in state elections scheduled for early next year.

Thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of New Delhi since late 2020 as part of a mass agitation to pressure Modi into rolling back the reforms.

Farmers celebrated his retreat, but their leaders quickly warned that the protests would continue until the government promised to enact legislation guaranteeing minimum prices for all crops. more info

The government currently buys rice and wheat at Minimum Support Prices or guaranteed prices, but the safety net only benefits about 6% of India’s millions of farmers.

The main farmers’ body said in a letter to Modi one Sunday, “Minimum Support Price, based on the total cost of production, should be made a legal entitlement of all farmers (and) for all agricultural produce…”

Farmers also requested that the federal government withdraw a draft electricity bill, which they fear will result in state governments withdrawing their right to free or subsidized power, which is primarily used for irrigation.

The northern state of Punjab, which is part of India’s grain belt, provides free electricity to agriculture, while some states subsidize power to farmers.

Growers have also requested that the government eliminate fines and other penalties for burning their fields after harvesting to remove stalk and chaff. The smoke has become a major source of air pollution in Delhi and its satellite towns, which border crop-growing northern states.