Indian farmers listen to a speaker as they take part in a protest against the central government’s recent agricultural reforms at the Delhi-Haryana state border in Singhu on Dec. 4. (Photo: Money Sharma/AFP)
As negotiations failed to end the week-long protest by Indian farmers in New Delhi, more than 40 Catholic bishops in Kerala have sought government action to address the farmers' plight.
Federal agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar led the government team in negotiations lasting more than seven hours with 40 leaders of farmer unions on Dec. 3. Although talks failed, the teams are meeting again on Dec. 5.
"Millions of families of farmers in the country are worried about their future because of the new farm laws," said Cardinal George Alencherry after a three-day session of Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC) attended by 42 bishops in the southern state.
Thousands of farmers, mostly from Punjab and Haryana states, have been protesting in the national capital since Nov. 29 to demand the repeal of what they termed as three anti-farmer laws.
They want the government to roll back three laws — the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 — enacted in September to reform the farm sector.
The bishops urged the federal government to immediately address farmers' concerns and make India a farmer-friendly nation.
Farmers’ leaders said the new laws mean they must sell their produce on the open market and negotiate prices with wholesale buyers, removing the minimum support prices the government has provided.
Quoting from authoritative warnings from experts, the bishops said the entry of big business houses in agriculture will push more than 86 percent of the small and medium farmers into big trouble.
"The government should move in the direction of ensuring the welfare of the farmers who constitute the majority population in the country," the bishops said.
The bishops want the government to enact farmer-friendly policies for the nation's welfare, with some 70 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people depending on farming for a living.
Farmers’ leaders said that during the negotiations the government assured them it would address their concerns but sidestepped several loopholes and deficiencies in the laws.
They said the government had rushed the laws to help big companies without discussing them with farmers.
"We will continue our protest until the government rolls back the anti-farmer laws," farmers shouted after the failed meeting with the government.
Father Jacob G. Palackapilly, deputy secretary-general of KCBC, said the bishops took stock of the farmers' protest and held detailed discussions on the laws and their impact if implemented in their current form.
"The bishops are of the firm view that the new farm laws are not in the interest of the farmers and want the government to repeal them," Father Palackapilly told UCA News on Dec. 4.
The protest is gaining support from other groups. The All-India Motor Transport Congress, an umbrella body of about 10 million goods vehicle operators, called for a strike from Dec. 8 to support the farmers.
President Kultaran Singh Atwal warned that if the government fails to meet the farmers’ demands, the group will stop all its vehicles from Dec. 8.
The stoppage of trucks carrying food could create a food crisis across the country. The capital is already witnessing food shortages in markets as the protesting farmers have blocked most entry and exit points to New Delhi.