Indian farmers protest, fear exploitation by private players

NEW DELHI (AP) — Hundreds of Indian farmers took to the streets on Friday to protest new laws that the government says will boost growth in the agricultural sector through private investments.

The protesting farmers fear they could be exploited by private players who buy their crops at cheap prices.

The farmers used tractors to block highways on the outskirts of the Indian capital and in some other states. They accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of ignoring their demand, including minimum buying prices for crops like wheat, paddy, lentils, soya, cotton and sugarcane in the new legislative clauses.

Narendra Pahwa, a member of the Indian Farmer’s Union, said that moneyed traders will start exploiting farmers. The protest received support from opposition Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi, who said the new agricultural laws “will enslave our farmers.”

Similar rallies were held in Punjab, Haryana, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh states.

The government protects agricultural producers against any sharp fall in farm prices by announcing a minimum purchase price at the beginning of the sowing season, taking into account the cost of production.

Modi on Friday assured farmers that the government has no intention of discontinuing or diluting the minimum support price for various crops or buying of key crops by government agencies.

The farmers want those assurances to be part of the new law, which was passed last Sunday after an acrimonious debate, said Sukhbir Singh Badal, whose Akali Dal Party is an ally of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

Badal said the farmers were not willing to accept any government assurances short of legislative clauses. The farmers comprise nearly 70% of India’s nearly 1.4 billion people.

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