India passes new farm laws amid protest from minister, opposition

NEW DELHI • India's Parliament yesterday passed new Bills that the government says will make it easier for farmers to sell their produce directly to big buyers, despite growing protest from opposition parties and a long-time ally of the ruling party.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said the new laws will reform antiquated laws and remove middlemen from agriculture trade, allowing farmers to sell to institutional buyers and large retailers like Walmart.

The Bills also make contract farming easier by providing a new set of rules.

But Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who is from an alliance party, resigned last Thursday in protest, calling the Bills "anti-farmer".

Opposition parties have also said that the farmers' bargaining power will be diminished by allowing retailers to have tighter control over them.

Yesterday, some opposition lawmakers raised slogans, tore documents and tried to grab the Speaker's microphone in the Upper House of India's Parliament, before two of the controversial Bills were passed by a voice vote.

One of Mr Modi's senior Cabinet ministers, Mr Rajnath Singh, said on Twitter: "The passage of both the Bills in Parliament is indeed a landmark day for Indian agriculture."

Ms Kaur Badal is from a regional party which has a strong base in the northern state of Punjab and believes the Bills will increase farmer suffering in the bread basket state.

Her party believes the laws will destroy wholesale markets which ensure fair and timely payments to farmers, undermine the state's farmers in negotiations and weaken the overall state economy.

In recent days, many farmer organisations have held street protests in Punjab and neighbouring Haryana state near New Delhi.

Yesterday, India's main opposition Congress party criticised the government.

Party spokesman Randeep Surjewala said: "We will make sure that the government will have to step down on its knees before the farming community of this country.

"It will be farmers on one side and big businesses on the other side. How will they fight?"

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 21, 2020, with the headline 'India passes new farm laws amid protest from minister, opposition'. Subscribe