Amid the continuing standoff between farmers’ groups and the central government over the agricultural laws, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday reiterated that the reforms will be beneficial. He said the laws will give farmers access to new markets and technology, and help bring investments in the agriculture sector.

“We had seen walls between agriculture sector and other areas associated with it – be it agriculture infrastructure, food processing, storage or cold chain,” he said at the 93rd Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry Annual General Meeting. “All walls and obstacles are being removed now. After reforms, farmers will get new markets, options and more benefits of technology.”

The prime minister said that cold storage infrastructure will also be modernised for investments in the farm sector. He stressed that the government is committed to protect the interest of farmers’ through “its policies and intentions”.

He also expressed his dissatisfaction over the limited participation of India’s industry leaders in the agriculture sector, saying private players did not explore the full potential of it.

“To strengthen the country’s agriculture sector many steps have been taken,” Modi said. ‘It has become much more vibrant. Today, India’s farmers have the choice of selling their produce in the ‘mandis’ as well as outside them.”

Addressing the convention, Modi also said that India prioritised saving lives during the coronavirus pandemic and that his government’s policies and actions were oriented towards that. “India has gone up through a lot of ups and downs in 2020,” he said. “However, we have bounced back faster than expected from coronavirus crisis. Emphasis is being laid to re-energise technology-based industries in sectors in which India has long term competitive advantage.”

On December 7, Modi had said that reforms are needed for development and some old laws have become a “burden”. Last month, the prime minister had said that agricultural reforms brought new opportunities to farmers as new rights were accorded to them. He added that the Parliament passed the farm ordinances after a “rigorous brainstorming”.

Farm law protests

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.

Tens of thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting at key entry points to Delhi for the last 16 days against the laws. The farmers fear the agricultural reforms will weaken the minimum support price mechanism under which the government buys agricultural produce, will lead to the deregulation of crop-pricing, deny them fair remuneration for their produce and leave them at the mercy of corporations. The government, on the other hand, maintains that the new laws will give farmers more options in selling their produce, lead to better pricing, and free them from unfair monopolies.

Opposition parties have also criticised the reforms, saying they would benefit big business and not farmers. They have also urged President Ram Nath Kovind to ask the government to accept farmers’ demands.