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India passes agriculture bills amid uproar

September 20, 2020

The controversial laws are aimed at reforming India's agriculture sector and allowing farmers to market their produce. Opposition parties say the new bills could lead to the exploitation of farmers by big corporations.

A view Parliament House building in New Delhi,India, 02 August 2016
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/STR

Indian parliament's upper house on Sunday approved a pair of agriculture bills amid protests by opposition lawmakers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government says the proposed laws will boost agriculture growth through private investments.

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the legislation would reform India's deeply stressed agriculture sector and will give farmers the freedom to market their produce. The government hopes that its new policy will double farmers' income by 2022.

A third bill, which is part of the overall farm liberalization plan, could not be taken up because the upper house adjourned for the day amid opposition protests.

The passed bills will have to be signed by India's ceremonial president, a formality before becoming law.

Read more: Farmers' protests spotlight worsening agrarian crisis in India

Farmers' woes

Rahul Gandhi, the leader of India's main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, accused PM Modi of making farmers "slaves" of the capitalists in a tweet.

Indian farmers take to streets

Participating in the parliamentary debate, former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, asked Modi to explain the short- and long-term impact of the bills on farmers.

"The prime minister should explain why there's a hurry to pass the bills amid the pandemic," he said. Modi should "explain how it will help in achieving the government's goal of doubling farmers' income," he added.

Even some government allies dubbed the bills "anti-farmer."

On Thursday, Shiromani Akali Dal party lawmaker Harsimrat Kaur resigned as minister for food processing in protest against the bills.

Indian farmers have held huge rallies across the country in the past few years to protest against the government's "neglect" of the agriculture sector amid increasing privatization.

More than half of India's farmers are reportedly in debt, with 20,638 committing suicide in 2018 and 2019, according to India's National Crime Records Bureau.

shs/mm (AP, dpa)