Indian government offers more concessions as farmers intensify protests

Indian farmers gather to support the ongoing protest against new agricultural laws in Bangalore, India, on Dec 9, 2020.
Indian farmers gather to support the ongoing protest against new agricultural laws in Bangalore, India, on Dec 9, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI (REUTERS) - India's agriculture minister said on Thursday (Dec 10) the government was ready to consider further changes to divisive reforms that have triggered the biggest protests by farmers in years.

Mr Narendra Singh Tomar urged farmers' leaders to come in for another round of talks to end the impasse over new agricultural legislation the government says was meant to overhaul antiquated procurement procedures and open up the market.

Huge crowds have been out on the streets around Delhi since November demanding that the government repeal the laws that they say will eventually dismantle India's regulated markets and leave them at the mercy of private buyers.

Protest leaders have threatened to intensify their demonstrations from Saturday by blocking national highways and by boycotting public events held by leaders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party.

"The government is ready to consider any additional objections of the farmers if they have any," the minister told reporters.

The ultimate aim of the legislation, he said, was to increase farmers' income. "Through these laws, the government has eased restrictions on private investment in the agricultural sector," Mr Tomar said.

The current system of procurement, where the state set prices, would continue, he added.

Farmers on Wednesday rejected earlier compromises from the government, including a promise that private market places could be taxed by the state governments at the same rate as state markets.

Mr Modi's reforms, voted through in Parliament in September with little debate, have particularly angered politically influential farmers groups in the crop-growing states of Punjab and Haryana.

Small farmers fear that once big corporate players enter the market, they will lose government guarantees on prices.

"There is no mention of providing legal assurance for the minimum support price for the procurement of crops," Mr Yogendra Yadav, an opposition leader who is taking part in the protests, told Mirror Now TV channel on Thursday.