New legislation favours large monopoly groups, which will now be able to impose prices. Small-scale farmers want to continue selling their products through government bodies. For Card Alencherry, farmers should not be denied their rights. Liberalising the sector will create wealth, the government claims. Public agencies cannot compete with large corporations, experts say.
New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Protests are mounting against two bills adopted by the Modi government in order to liberalise agricultural trade.
India’s Lower House, the Lok Sabha, approved the new laws last Thursday, followed on Sunday by the Upper House, the Rajya Sabha. Now, to become law, the bills must be signed by Indian President Ram Nath Kovind.
As a result of the new legislation, thousands of people have staged protests and organised roadblocks in farming states like Punjab (pictures 1 and 2), Andhra Pradesh (picture 3), Kerala and Hariyana.
For small farmers, the new legislation reduces the support price for their products, and limits the possibility of storing production in state warehouses, a system with many defects but which has nevertheless produced good results since farmers are paid in advance by the government.
Until now, farmers could sell their produce directly to public agencies. The fear is that with the new regulatory regime the market will end up in the hands of monopoly groups.
Speaking at a webinar of the Justice, Peace and Development Commission of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, Card George Alencherry, major archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, asks that "farmers not be denied their rights".
According to Commission chairman Bishop Jose Pulickal, liberalisation is a permanent threat to small farmers because it favours large corporate groups like Ambani and Adani, which will now be able to impose prices and control the agricultural market.
All the opposition parties have protested against the measures. Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Minister for Food Processing Industries, resigned last Thursday over the issue.
According to Jayaram Ramesh, a member of the Indian Congress Party, the main opposition party, the government was in a hurry to pass the bill to save the individual interests of some of the large companies that support it.
Punjab's Catholics, who are mostly farm workers, feel threatened by the new laws. “Farmers risk not getting a fair price for their goods, and in the long run they could go into debt," said Fr Subin Thekkedath, head of social works at the Diocese of Jalandhar, speaking to AsiaNews.
The Modi administration has defended the new laws, stating that they will bring great benefits to farmers all over the country, because they facilitate transportation of agricultural products within and between states.
Government supporters note that the legislation does not dismantle the system for purchasing rice or grains by public agencies, nor does it eliminate the guaranteed minimum price of agricultural products.
For several observers, however, government bodies will struggle to compete with large groups in a competitive market.