New Delhi: As farmers vowed to expand their protests over new farm laws, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday assured them that his government was committed to their welfare and that the legislations were aimed at giving them alternate markets to boost income.
Without directly referring to the farmers’ agitation, which entered the 17th day on Saturday, Modi said agriculture reforms as part of government efforts are aimed at removing roadblocks, and the new laws will also bring in technology and investment in the sector.
The government, he said, is committed to protecting the interest and welfare of farmers through its policies and actions.
“Reforms will help draw investment in the agriculture sector and benefit farmers,” he said at the annual meeting of industry body FICCI here. “The aim of all government reforms is to make farmers prosperous.”
The new legislations, which were approved in the previous Parliament session, give farmers an additional option outside of the designated mandis to buy or sell their crops, he said.
“The idea is to help increase farmer incomes,” Modi reiterated.
Hundreds of farmers from states like Punjab and Haryana have blocked some of the highways leading to Delhi borders for more than two weeks now against the new farm laws which they fear will prompt the government to stop making direct crop purchases at minimum state-set prices, called minimum support price (MSP).
They have vowed to expand their protests across the country until the government scraps the new farm laws.
The government has so far refused to heed to their demand but has promised to continue the MSP-based procurement.
The three new laws remove restrictions on marketing farm products and allow cultivators to engage with private companies to sell their crops. This, the government says, allows farmers an alternate avenue to sell crops, raising their income and is aimed at making farming more competitive.
Listing his government’s farmer-friendly measures, Modi said the government has encouraged producing ethanol from sugarcane. This ethanol is blended in petrol to cut India’s oil import dependence and gives farmers remunerative prices for their crops, he said.
Modi said farmers will get technology and benefit from access to the market.
Expressing dissatisfaction over the limited participation of India Inc in the agriculture sector, the Prime Minister asked industries to show their interest and increase investment in the sector.
Unfortunately the India Inc has not made adequate investments in agriculture and private players did not explore the sector to its full potential, rather they worked in a limited fashion, he said.
Citing an example, he said, “the private sector’s participation is not as per the desired level in cold storage and fertiliser manufacturing”.
He said rural India is growing faster than urban centres in certain aspects of the economy and offers a prime market for investors.
A section of India’s agriculture, mostly in Punjab, relies excessively on selling rice and wheat to the government at MSP. This trade takes place in markets, known as ‘mandis’. One of the laws gives farmers the freedom to sell their produce outside the designated yards, without paying taxes and fees.
But farmers fear if the mandi falls into disuse, the government may stop buying from them at the guaranteed price (MSP).