India: Unions oppose agricultural reforms for empowering large agribusinesses while pushing small scale farmers further into debt and precarity
Farmers in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana have been protesting against agricultural reform laws that were passed in September 2020. The reforms deregulate crop sales in a move the government claims will give farmers greater control over prices. However, farmers have branded the reforms as pro-corporate privatisation that threaten their already precarious livelihoods by rendering the Minimum Support Price mechanism redundant. The reforms remove the previous restrictions on corporate land-buying and commodity stockpiling and allow businesses to bypass government regulated markets.
In late November farmers unions in Punjab and Haryana issued the “Delhi Chalo” (onwards to Delhi) call and hundreds of thousands of farmers from across India marched on Delhi. The farmers were met with police and paramilitary forces using tear gas and water cannons to slow their progress. The farmers were eventually allowed to continue towards Delhi and set up a protest camp at Nirankari ground in North-West Delhi. On the 26th November, over 250 million workers participated in a nation-wide strike against the reforms in solidarity with protesting farmers, completely shutting down several states. Famers’ strikes and protests have continued to take place across the country.
There have been several rounds of talks between farmers and unions, including the Bhartiya Kisan Union (the Indian Farmers’ Union), and the Central government. After several inconclusive meetings between the two sides, the Central government offered to suspend the laws for period of 18 months following the 10th round of talks on the 20th January. The farmers are expected to make an announcement on this offer over the following days.
The Supreme Court has been critical of the government’s handling of the protests. In January it announced it was forming a committee headed by a former Chief Justice to resolve the legislative deadlock. The Court issued a stay to the implementation of the disputed legislation and on the 21st January its consultative committee held its first virtual session with farmers.
In November 2021, after a year of protests, The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the repeal of the controversial farm laws. While protesting farmers celebrated the news, many said they would wait until the laws were repealed in writing, before they called off the protests.
In December 2021, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, an unbrella body of farmer unions, called off the protests, after the farmers accepted a new proposal from the Centre on their demands.