Government move to reform agricultural marketing has sparked protests, with critics calling the move ‘pro-corporate’.
Farmers in India have pledged to continue protesting against recently passed agricultural legislation after talks with the government ended without a breakthrough.
The farmers on Tuesday said the authorities refused to withdraw a set of three laws adopted in September that grain producers fear could put an end to minimum prices they have been guaranteed by the government. Meanwhile, a government proposal to form a committee to discuss the issue was rejected by the protesters.
“The government did not agree to our points and rejected our demands outright,” said Chanda Singh, a member of the farmers’ delegation who on Tuesday met India’s Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar in New Delhi, where thousands of protesting farmers have been camping for days.
“The members of the delegation from the government side were not ready to listen to any of our demands and they have left us with no choice but to protest on the streets,” Singh told Al Jazeera.
“We will continue our protest unless our demands are met,” he said, adding that more farmers were expected to join the demonstrations.
However, Tomar appealed to the farmers to end their protest.
“The meeting was good and we have decided that the talks will be held on December 3. We wanted a small group to be constituted but farmers’ leaders wanted that the talks should be held with everyone, [and] we do not have problem with it,” Tomar said to news agency ANI, a Reuters News Agency affiliate.
“We appeal to the farmers to suspend the protests and come for the talks. However, this decision depends on farmers’ unions and farmers.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Joginder Singh Ugrahan, from Bhartiya Kisan Ekta Union, outlined the demands of the protesters.
“The law about electricity usage should be withdrawn,” Ugrahan, who participated in the talks, told Al Jazeera. “The NGT [National Green Tribunal] rule, pertaining to crop burning which has a hefty fine, should also be withdrawn,” he said, referring to the burning of the stubble by farmers in northern Punjab and Haryana states linked to pollution in Delhi.
The farmers’ leader also said that the protesters would press the government to legally define the MSP (Minimum Support Price – the price at which the government buys farm produce) framework for pricing. They fear exploitation by corporations who might further push down prices.
The enormous protests that entered their fifth day on Tuesday have rattled the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has resisted calls for the repeal of farm reforms, saying growers were being misled and that new laws would benefit them.
Modi’s government sought to allay concerns that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) would be abolished. It said that private investment was required to revitalise the agriculture sector, which employs more than half of India’s 1.3 billion people. The sector contributes nearly 15 percent to the country’s $2.9 trillion economy.
Modi insists the reforms are in the farmers’ interests.
During a rally on Monday, the prime minister dismissed the concerns raised by farmers and blamed opposition parties for spreading rumours.
“The farmers are being misled on these historic agriculture reform laws by the same people who for decades have misled them,” Modi said, referencing opposition parties who have called the laws anti-farmer and corporate. “Our intentions are as holy as the water of river Ganga.”
Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the main opposition Congress party, accused Modi of crony capitalism and said the laws would benefit corporations.
“Our farmers are standing up against the black laws and have reached Delhi leaving their farms and families behind. Do you want to stand with them or with Modi’s capitalist friends?” Gandhi said in a tweet.
The protests have lasted nearly two months in Punjab and Haryana states but on Thursday gained national attention when thousands of farmers clashed with police who used tear gas, water cannon and baton charges against them as they tried to enter India’s capital.
The governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been criticised for its handling of the protests not only by the opposition but also by foreign politicians.
Several Indian-origin parliamentarians in the United Kingdom and Canada have criticised the use of tear gas and water cannon on protesting farmers.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who voiced his solidarity with farmers, became the first world leader to comment on the issue.
“The news coming out of India about the protest by farmers. The situation is concerning and we are all very worried about family and friends. I know that’s a reality for many of you. Let me remind you, Canada will always be there to defend the rights of peaceful protest,” Trudeau said during an online event to mark the 551st birth anniversary of the Sikh leader Guru Nanak.
Senior BJP leader Ram Madhav was quick to react to Trudeau’s remarks, asking “What is his locus standi [right to be heard]?”
“Isn’t it tantamount to interference in India’s sovereign matters?” Madhav said on Twitter.
Bilal Kuchay contributed to the report from New Delhi