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Indian farmers march on Delhi to protest new agriculture laws

Hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers have marched into Delhi and set up vast camps blocking entry to the city in protest at agricultural laws they say will destroy their livelihoods.

Farmers from the nearby states of Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh began arriving by tractors and on foot to the outskirts of New Delhi last week, where they blocked roads and set up makeshift camps. Some slept on the road or in their tractors. Several places of worship offered protesters food.

The farmers are protesting against a series of agricultural laws that loosen crop pricing regulations, which they say will leave them at the mercy of big corporations. Ratam Mann Singh, president of the Indian Farmers Association, said: “I took part in this protest because the central government has sold out the farmers with these new laws, which did not have any consultation or input from farmers. If they are passed, then the farmers’ rights will be finished.”

Under the previous laws, farmers had to sell their goods at auction at their state's Agricultural Produce Market Committee, where they were guaranteed to get at least the government-agreed minimum price. The new agricultural law removes the committee structure, allowing farmers to freely sell their goods without much regulation. They can now enter into contracts with private companies, a practice known in India as ‘contract farming’ and sell across state borders.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi defended the new laws, saying that increasing market competition would be a good thing as it fulfils farmers' demands for higher income and gives them new rights and opportunities. He hopes it will attract private investment into the agricultural industry, which has been left behind while the country has modernised.

But farmers argue that the rules could help big companies drive down prices. While farmers could sell crops at higher prices if the demand is there, they could struggle to meet the minimum price in years when there is too much supply or too little demand in the market.

Key words

1. Agricultural laws

2. Market competition

3. Industry

4. Private investment

Key questions

  1. What impact do the new laws have on Indian farmers?

  2. Are the new laws justified? Ultimately, can it help Indian farmers?

  3. What should the government do to negotiate with the farmers?

  4. What could the Indian government do differently to support farmers?

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