Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday defended his government’s decision to overhaul agricultural markets through four new legislations that has come under attack by opposition leaders.
Modi said that the new laws would benefit farmers tremendously as they will be able to sell their produce anywhere in the country. Previously, they were required to sell only in nearest notified agricultural markets through licenced traders.
He pointed out during his monthly radio address that growers had benefited after fruits and vegetables were removed from the ambit of the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Act in 2014.
Earlier, farmers could not sell their produce because of strict laws which bound them to go through tiers of middlemen for selling their farm produce.
However, the decision has sparked protests on apprehension that the new systems, which will allow private agriculture markets to come up in competition to APMC markets, will lead to private businesses cornering the agriculture trade.
There are also concerns that the government may gradually dismantle a system of minimum support prices (MSP) for 27 essential commodities. On the other hand, the government has said the system of MSPs will continue.
Last week, the government announced increases in MSPs for winter season crops, apparently to rebut the criticism. State-run agencies also launched procurement of summer season crops, almost a month prior to the usual time.
Farm laws are particularly sensitive because the livelihood of hundreds of millions of poor and marginal farmers are at stake, who comprise around half of the country’s workforce.
The bills passed by Parliament this month are opposed by different farmer unions and opposition parties. Modi praised farmers in Haryana, Gujarat and other states for doing well with the country expected to reap a bumper summer crop.
The farm sector has lagged behind the rest of the sectors in India’s three decades of economic reforms, but the government now appears to be making a concerted bid to liberalise the sector.
Though India has one of the highest proportions of arable land under agriculture, farm productivity has remained far behind many other parts of the world. Still, the sector is seen as the brightest hope for the economy amid the pandemic.