Narendra Modi abandons controversial farm bill

Image copyright AFP Image caption Hundreds of protesters have been killed in clashes with police

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repealed controversial farm legislation following weeks of protests by a farmers’ lobby group that saw protests in major cities and deadly clashes with police.

Mr Modi had previously refused to roll back a raft of measures including a lowering of the retirement age for farmers.

But in a televised address, he announced a complete review of proposed reforms.

The ruling BJP won a landslide election in 2017 partly on its commitment to lift farmers out of poverty.

Indian policy on farmers has always been complicated.

A rising country , a rising farmland India re_ported to be on top of the world . India rethinks its farmers , a revealing report detailing India’s policy on farm crisis by KR Barath Kumar . https://t.co/HXuWQNwXvq pic.twitter.com/s9RY5SJw6P — Jane Harman (@janemarman) August 9, 2018

India would change its grain procurement rules – which have created two distinct kinds of farmers: those who are paid less than the going rate and some who are paid enough but only after years of production.

The “staggered compensation” – started by the previous government – has given farmers an inflated sense of how much they could realistically expect to get for their harvests.

That distortion also has an impact on agricultural exports, where India is the world’s leading cotton producer and exporter.

Indian farmers, many of whom grow cotton and wheat, are very sensitive to prices because the land they work is often their only means of earning an income.

But if the old set of reforms is scrapped, all farmers will receive either cash or an equivalent amount of government-subsidised foodgrains, the BBC’s Jonny Dymond reports from New Delhi.

“The problems that have been solved cannot be added to again,” Mr Modi told television viewers.

“The law has been passed after much debate and discussion and it has established a standard which is built on the ideals of a uniform agriculture policy.”

Dozens of Indian cities saw protests this summer against a bill allowing farmers to tap into their land more easily for commercial ventures.

Those protests led to violence, with violence against women, including rape, reported in many major cities.

Some police departments increased the number of police stationed in key sites, including the protests’ epicentre of New Delhi.

Those protests are set to continue. Demonstrators have threatened to go back to Delhi if the changes are not rolled back.

Indian leaders have previously said they would implement reforms gradually and with the help of economists.

They didn’t cite statistics to back up their arguments, which had been framed by media reports which focused more on opposition parties than on the benefits to farmers.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption One man was killed when police fired on protesters in Mumbai

But market analysts doubt the impact of the changes.

“The kind of reforms proposed so far are quite inadequate and don’t adequately address the complex range of problems faced by the rural economy,” Harsh Minhas, a partner at Cambridge Econometrics, told the BBC.

“Fixing the government’s rickety administrative systems will remain a difficult task,” she added.

The opposition Congress party has called on Mr Modi to reconsider some of the new policies, saying they were responsible for lower prices for farmers and could encourage a “mystique of speculation”.

Maintaining the reforms will be challenging, Mr Minhas said.

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