India’s farmers on Tuesday led a nationwide strike opposing new laws in what has been called the biggest protest on earth.
Farmers from across India have been on the streets at various borders of the national capital, protesting three laws, which have been enacted since September.
Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Kamal Nath hit out at the Centre over the three new farm laws, alleging that the government was trying to ruin the country. "The new agriculture laws brought by the Centre will exploit the farmers," the told reporters yesterday.
Farmers are protesting laws that deregulate the sale of crops, allowing private buyers more freedom in the market, which has long been dominated by government subsidies.
Farmers say the reforms to laws remove the protections for small landholders’ place in the market and will put them at risk of losing their businesses and land to big corporations.
The government claims that the reforms are necessary to make the country’s underperforming agriculture sector more efficient. Farming employs nearly half of the county’s workforce, yet accounts for only 16% of GDP.
Reforms are deemed essential in order to ensure the feeding of a rising population, but the subject of the agricultural market is a highly emotive one for India’s farmers. Since the 1960s and the ‘Green Revolution', the government has guaranteed the prices of certain crops to farmers.
Critics of the scheme have said that it has led to a lack of crop diversity, negatively impacted the environment and led to the conglomeration of small landholdings into larger commercial farms.
Narendra Modi’s government is coming under increasing criticism for its heavy-handed approach to the protests, with images going viral of elderly farmers from the Punjab region being baton-charged and tear-gassed.
The new laws would allow farmers to sell outside of the so-called ‘mandi system’ and go directly to the market. They will also allow private buyers to hoard essential commodities to sell at future dates. Other changes would force farmers to tailor their production to meet private market demands.