2/2 © Reuters. Protest against agricultural laws in the village of Bhainswal 2/2
By Mayank Bhardwaj NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday invited protesting farmers to speak to address farmers’ concerns about three new farm laws that seek to deregulate the country’s vast agricultural sector. Tens of thousands of farmers have been camping on the main roads on the outskirts of New Delhi for more than two months in an attempt to force the government to withdraw new laws that they say benefit private buyers at their expense. In defense of laws passed by his government in September, Modi said: “The laws give farmers the freedom to sell products directly to buyers, freeing them from the old restriction of selling crops only through wholesale markets.” The laws were designed to give farmers a choice, without weakening existing wholesale markets, Modi told parliament. Lawmakers from the main opposition party, Congress, left parliament and expressed solidarity with the protesting farmers. The protesting farmers accuse the government of introducing laws to help large private retailers. Producers say the laws will gradually make traditional wholesale markets irrelevant and farmers will be left at the mercy of private buyers. Modi said that India’s agricultural sector needed investment to help modernize the food supply chain and improve infrastructure, critical to increasing farmers’ incomes, and that India’s private sector should not be viewed with suspicion. “India’s private sector has played an important role in the well-being of the nation, and here we need wealth creators,” he said. Emphasizing the need to switch to profitable crops like fruit and horticulture, Modi said Indian farmers should look beyond growing rice and wheat. After years of bountiful harvests, India struggles with bulging stocks of rice and wheat worth billions of dollars not sold in government warehouses. Modi also called on protesters and their supporters to stop vandalizing toll plazas and telecommunications masts.