Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said that agricultural reforms brought new opportunities to farmers as new rights were accorded to them. Modi’s remarks came as farmers from at least three states have gathered in and around Delhi to protest against the new farming laws.

“These reforms have not only broken shackles of farmers but they have also been given new rights and more opportunities,” the prime minister said in the 18th edition of his monthly “Mann Ki Baat 2.0” radio programme. “These rights started mitigating problems of farmers very quickly.”

Modi said the Parliament passed the farm ordinances after a “rigorous brainstorming”. He also narrated the story of a farmer in Maharashtra, who availed the benefits of the new farm laws.

“Under this law, it was decided that all dues of the farmers should be cleared within three days of procurement, failing which, the farmer can lodge a complaint,” the prime minister said. “Another notable aspect of this law is that the area Sub Divisional Magistrate has to ensure grievance redressal of the farmer within one month.” Modi claimed that the farmer, Jitendra Bhoiji, filed a complaint within days and his outstanding dues were cleared.

During the radio episode, the prime minister spoke about making India self-reliant, the coronavirus, and the birthday of Sikh leader Guru Nanak. Modi urged people to keep up the fight against Covid-19, adding that “any kind of laxity” will be dangerous.

India recorded 41,810 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, taking the country’s tally to 93,92,919. The toll rose to 1,36,696 with 496 more deaths, while the number of active cases stood at 4,53,956. So far, 88,02,267 people have recovered from the disease in the country.

Farmers protests

Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, began their protests on November 25. They are protesting against three new farm laws that they claim would discontinue the minimum support price regime, leaving them to deal with corporate entities.

The farmers, who want to protest in Delhi, were on Friday given permission to agitate at a site in Burari. The protestors had to brave tear gas and water cannons on both Thursday and Friday as they pushed to enter Delhi.

The authorities had taken extraordinary measures to set up blockades on highways, parking buses, trucks and other large vehicles. At some places, they even dug up trenches to obstruct farmers, many of whom camped on highways for the night in biting cold. Dramatic scenes unfolded at the borders as the farmers threw barricades set up by the police into a river. They also clashed with the police on a bridge.

The Parliament had passed three ordinances – Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Ordinance 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Assurance and Farm Service Ordinance 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 – in September. They were signed into laws by President Ram Nath Kovind on September 27.

Taken together, the three legislations loosen regulations on the sale, pricing and storage of agricultural produce. They allow farmers to sell outside mandis notified by the Agricultural Produce Market Committee. They enable contract farming through deals with private sector companies. They take food items like cereals and pulses off the list of essential commodities, lifting stock limits on such produce.

Farmers and traders have alleged that the government wants to discontinue the minimum support price regime in the name of reforms. They fear that the laws will leave them at the mercy of corporate powers. The government has maintained that farm laws will bring farmers better opportunities and usher in new technologies in agriculture.