Indian farmers step up pressure with hunger strike against agricultural reforms

Farmers have been demonstrating for nearly three weeks against deregulation of the agriculture sector.
Farmers have been demonstrating for nearly three weeks against deregulation of the agriculture sector.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - Leaders of protesting Indian farmers began a one-day hunger strike on Monday (Dec 14) against agricultural reforms that they say threaten their livelihoods, stepping up pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to withdraw the legislation.

Farmers have been demonstrating for nearly three weeks against deregulation of the agriculture sector that will allow them to sell produce to buyers beyond government-regulated wholesale markets, where growers are assured a minimum price.

"We want them to repeal the laws," said Mr Gurbax Singh, a protest leader from the northern state of Punjab, which is at the forefront of the opposition, as he and other leaders began a hunger strike at a main protest site.

Small growers fear that the changes, part of Mr Modi's liberalising reforms, will mean the end of price support for staples such as wheat and rice and leave them at the mercy of big business.

Mr Modi has sought to allay concerns, telling farmers they will gain new rights and opportunities.

The reforms, contained in three laws enacted in September, loosen rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce.

Six rounds of talks between government officials and farmers' union leaders have failed to resolve one of the most pressing issues facing Mr Modi's government.

The government has said that while the reforms can be amended it is determined to liberalise the sector. Farmers last week rejected a government's proposal to amend the legislation.

Farmers from Punjab and the neighbouring state of Haryana, which border New Delhi, have been at the vanguard of the agitation, and have set up protest camps in and around the capital.

Farmers would step up protests at district headquarters throughout the country, said Mr Kamal Preet Singh Pannu, a leader of the Sanyukta Kisan Andolan (United Farmers' Protest), one of 30 groups opposing the reforms.

Farmers from the western state of Rajasthan tried to join the protest on Monday but the authorities stopped them from entering New Delhi, prominent social activist and farmers' leader Yogendra Yadav said on Twitter.