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Bharat Bandh: Farmers in India call for a nationwide shutdown on December 8

Dec 7, 2020, 11:56 IST
Business Insider India
One of the farmer's raises slogans against India's new farm laws at a protest during their ongoing agitation at Ghazipur Delhi-UP borderBCCL
  • Farmers in India currently protesting the country’s new farm laws have upped the ante and are calling for a nationwide shutdown on December 8.
  • The call for a Bharat Bandh comes one day ahead of farmers’ union leaders' scheduled meeting with the Indian government for the fifth round of talks on December 5.
  • The development comes despite Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar’s assurances that the minimum support price (MSP) scheme will continue even under the new amendments on December 3.
  • Bank unions have also expressed their solidarity with the agitation of famers against the farm bills.
Leaders of farmers’ unions call for a nationwide shutdown in India as the protests against the country’s three new farm laws continue to intensify.

The call for a Bharat Bandh comes even after Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar’s comments indicated that the government was ready to concede some ground after the last round of talks between the farmers and the Indian government on December 3.

Farmers from Punjab and Haryana gathered against India's new farm laws at the Singhu Border between the national capital and the state of Haryana on December 3BCCL

However, the farmers’ unions remain adamant that all three laws should be repealed despite Tomar’s assurances that they would not impact the minimum support price (MSP) system — a method used by the government to insure agricultural producers against any sharp fall in farm prices.

"Yesterday, we told the Government (at the meeting) that the farm laws should be withdrawn. We have given a call for Bharat Bandh on 8 December," said HS Lakhowal, the general secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU-Lakhowal), during a press conference at the Singhu border, which lies between Delhi and Haryana.

Farmers break the barricade at Delhi-Meerut expressway on the National Highway-9 (NH-9) at Ghazipur as farmers block the carriageway from Uttar Pradesh to Delhi on December 3BCCL


"We need to take this protest forward. Government has to take back the farm laws," added Hannan Mollah, general secretary of another farmers’ union called the All India Kisan Sabha.

The announcement also comes just a day before the next round of talks scheduled to take place on December 5.

The All India Bank Officers' Confederation (AIBOC), All India Bank Officers' Association (AIBOA) and the Indian National Bank Officers' Congress (INBOC) have also expressed their solidarity with the agitation of famers against the farm bills.

"The three contentious bills have come as a major disappointment to the citizenry of India," they said in a statement.

The three disputed laws:
  1. The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020
  2. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020
  3. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020
These three bills were passed during the Monsoon Session of Parliament in September. Controversy surrounded them from the start as they were passed amid the opposition’s boycott of the parliamentary session.

Only members from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its ally Janata Dal (United), and other supportive parties such as AIADMK, BJD, YSR-Congress and TDP, were present for the debates on the bills.

Farmers attending the protest against India's new farm laws at Singhu border in New Delhi on December 2BCCL

Deregulation of markets will put farmers out of business
Farmer unions from Punjab and Haryana claim that the three new laws will dismantle the MSP system. According to them, the regulations leave room for big corporate houses to dictate the terms of the markets leaving farmers with the short end of the stick.

For instance, one section of the new law proposes that any agricultural produce sold outside of government-sanctioned marketplaces — called agricultural produce market committee (APMC) mandis — will be exempt from ‘market fee or cess or levy’ imposed by the state.

Farmers’ unions claim it leads to an uneven playing field between the APMC mandis and private collection centres or any new markets that may be created under the new law.

Water cannons used to stop Congress workers from marching to the home Haryana's Chief Minister M L Khattar who were protesting India's new farm laws BCCL

Another section bars farmers from taking their disputes over transactions in markets outside the APMC to the civil courts.

Instead, their only option is to take their complaints to boards and appellate authorities appointed by the local sub-divisional magistrates (SDM) and district collectors.

According to the farmers’ unions, this amounts to the denial of justice. They believe that since SDMs and district collectors are a part of the government machinery, they’re more likely to agree with the powers that be rather than the farmer’s plight.

The third issue under contention has to do with the rollback of requirements for merchants who are buying from the farmers. The new laws propose that any trader operating outside of APMCs only has to have an income tax permanent account number (PAN).

According to farmers’ unions this would leave them vulnerable to merchants who don’t pay. Traders who are licensed by the AMPC authorities can have their license revoked if a farmer complains of non-payment. They can also encash the bank guarantees submitted by the merchants to regain some of the loss.

Farmers from Gautambudh Nagar stopped by the Delhi Police while trying to enter the national capital from Mayur Vihar<span></span>BCCL

Without licensing, farmers’ unions claim there is room for ‘fly-by-night’ operators.

There are currently 35 farmer unions protesting the new laws and blocking the border of Delhi. A petition has also been filed with the Delhi High Court asking the farmers to disperse because it could lead to the community spread of COVID-19. The plea also claimed that the protests are blocking roads required for the movement of emergency and medical services.

Protesting farmers clash with the police on their way to New Delhi to protest against the central government's recent agricultural reforms on November 27BCCL

The farmers first arrived at the national capital six days ago. They claim they are prepared to hold out for up to six months if the government does not concede to their demands.

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