PM Modi seeks to quell concerns on farm laws


Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday sought to dispel concerns about recently enacted farm laws that he said had opened up new opportunities for cultivators, in the backdrop of protests by farmers in Punjab and Haryana who have marched to the Capital.

“New dimensions are being added to agriculture and its related activities in India. The agriculture reforms in the past few days have also now opened new doors of possibilities for our farmers,” Modi said in his monthly radio broadcast Mann Ki Baat.

Decades-old demands by farmers that political parties at various times had promised would be fulfilled are now being met with Parliament having passed the three farm laws after rigorous brainstorming, Modi said.

“These reforms have not only broken shackles of farmers but have also given new rights and opportunities for them. These rights started mitigating problems that were being faced by farmers in a short span of time,” he said.

Farmers want the Modi government to revoke the three contentious laws approved by Parliament in September. The laws essentially change the way India’s farmers do business by creating free markets, as opposed to a network of decades-old, government-controlled agricultural markets.

Together, the laws allow businesses to freely trade farm produce outside the so-called government-controlled “mandi system”, permit private traders to stockpile large quantities of essential commodities for future sales, which earlier only government-approved agents could, and lay down new rules for contract farming.

Farmers say the reforms would make them vulnerable to exploitation by big corporations, erode their bargaining power and weaken the government’s procurement system, whereby the government buys staples, such as wheat and rice, at guaranteed prices.

The Prime Minister cited the example of a Maharashtra-based farmer, Jitendra Bhoiji, who used the new law to recover money that was owed to him. After failing to get the amount that was due to him even four months after selling his produce, Bhoji invoked a provision that it was mandatory to pay a farmer within three days of the purchase.

“If the payment is not made, the farmer can make a complaint. Under the law there is a provision that the SDM {sub-divisional magistrate} of the area must address the complaint of the farmer within a month,” the PM said.

The Prime Minister also cited the example of Mohammad Aslam in Rajasthan’s Baran who is creating awareness among farmers by updating them about the day-to-day rates in the local agricultural markets. Aslam is the CEO of a farm producers federation. A third example that the Prime Minister cited was that of Virendra Yadav, who returned from Australia to Haryana‘s Kaithal and has found a solution to farm stubble burning.

Instead of burning stubble, which hurts air quality, Yadav has been selling the stubble to paper mills and agro energy plants and has made a profit in two years.

With thousands of farmers continuing their protest against the Centre’s new laws, Union home minister Amit Shah said in Hyderabad on Sunday said they were meant for the welfare of farmers and called their agitation apolitical. He told reporters: “The new farm laws are meant for the welfare of farmers. After a long time the farmer is going to come out of a locked system. Whoever wants to oppose it politically, let them do it. I have never said the farmers’ protest is political and would never say (that it is political).”

The Congress party, meanwhile, continued to attack the government over the farm laws. Congress general secretary Randeep Surjewala said on Sunday that the new laws were “anti-farmer” and their endorsement by the PM raises questions over the outcome of upcoming talks between the government and farmers’ leaders.

“In this cold weather, the agriculture minister is making the farmers wait till December 3 to speak to them…PM Modi in his Mann ki Baat said that the three laws are right for the farmers, then what is the point of talks,” Surjewala said.

The Congress leader also demanded an apology from the Bharatiya Janata Party for equating farmers with terrorists.

“Chief Minister of Haryana, ML Khattar, called them atanki (terrorists), head of the IT Cell Amit Malviya has dubbed them Khalistani. The Modi government and the Haryana government have filed over 12,000 cases against farmers who had opted for a Gandhian protest,” Surjewala said.

He alleged that the government wanted to benefit big business and not small farmers.Surjewala said the Congress wanted all three laws to be suspended and the cases filed against farmers to be taken back. The PM should hold talks with the representatives of farmers protesting in Delhi, he said.

“The law says farmers can move around to other states to sell their produce. When they are not able to sell their produce properly in their own area, then how will this benefit them and with contract farming, the government has started another kind of zamindari law. The farmers, under contract farming, won’t be able to fight against the corporate houses, who will become their owners,” Surjewala said.



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