India resumes talks with protesting farmers over agricultural legal guidelines By Reuters

By Mayank Bhardwaj and Rajendra Jadhav

NEW DELHI / MUMBAI (Reuters) – Indian ministers on Thursday started talks with farmers’ leaders to try to break a deadlock on laws passed earlier this year to deregulate the agricultural sector, which sparked the country’s largest agricultural protests in years.

Tens of thousands of farmers have settled at the entrance to the capital Delhi to protest against laws aimed at ridding the sector of outdated procurement practices and allowing farmers to sell to institutional buyers and large international retailers.

Farmers, who make up a powerful constituency, fear that the laws passed in September could pave the way for the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices and leave them to private buyers.

The protests represent a crucial test of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ability to reform India’s vast agricultural sector.

Minister of Agriculture and Welfare of Farmers Narendra Singh Tomar and Minister of Commerce Piyush Goyal have opened talks with nearly three dozen representatives of farmers, a government official said.

“We expect the government to heed our calls for the repeal of laws harmful to the Indian farming community,” said Joginder Singh Ugrahan, a well-known farming leader.

Modi’s government defended the bill and hours of talks between farmers’ leaders and the government on Tuesday failed to break the impasse.

India’s vast agricultural sector accounts for nearly 15% of the country’s $ 2.9 trillion economy and employs around half of its 1.3 billion people.

“We humbly ask you to listen to the voice of farmers and to withdraw the implementation of these laws completely,” Avik Saha, another farmer leader, said in a letter to the Minister of Agriculture on Thursday.

“It’s not about a specific clause, but about the direction in which the Indian government is pushing agriculture in India,” wrote Saha.

According to farmers’ groups, the government is trying to end a decade-long policy that gives them a guaranteed minimum price for making staple foods like wheat and rice.

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