Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Friday requested farmers to end their protest against the new central laws, offering talks next week, even as the police continued to fire tear gas and water cannons in a second day of clashes over the march to New Delhi.
“The government has always been ready to discuss issues with farmers. We have invited farmers’ organisations for another round of talks on 3rd December. I appeal to them to leave agitation in view of COVID-19 and winter,” Mr Tomar told news agency ANI.
After two days of face-offs, authorities allowed the farmers, some of whom threw stones and broke barricades, to enter the capital under police escort to stage a demonstration against agricultural reforms they fear will leave them at the mercy of big corporations.
The police had deployed hundreds of officers at different entry points to the capital, parking trucks full of sand and laying barbed wire to block the farmers’ path.
The farmers have been upset with the laws passed earlier this year which mean they are now free to sell their produce to anyone at any price, instead of to state-controlled markets at assured rates.
They say the new laws deregulating the vast agriculture sector will leave small growers vulnerable to corporate agri-businesses and could lead to a withdrawal of price supports for staples like wheat and rice.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed this as a “complete transformation of the agriculture sector” that would empower “tens of millions of farmers” and encourage much-needed investment and modernisation.
The government says there is no plan to eliminate wholesale markets and that farmers could sell at these yards as well as to big retailers such as WalMart. It hopes to bring new investment to the farm sector and fix the supply chains that lose one-fourth of India’s produce to wastage.
“The new laws holds the promise of bringing revolutionary change to farmers’ lives,” Mr Tomar had told ANI.
But the main opposition Congress party, which is in power in Punjab where many of the protesters came from, has argued the change will give private corporations free rein to exploit farmers.
(With inputs from agencies)