Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday listed out all that his government has done to empower India’s farmers in the 2021 Budget and in prior years, in another outreach to protestors demanding the repeal of three contentious farm laws aimed at opening up agricultural markets.
For one thing, the government has decided to connect at least 1,000 mandis (agricultural markets) to the eNAM online agricultural trading platform to turn the markets into centres of profit for farmers, the prime minister said in a speech by video link to mark the centenary of the Chauri Chaura event, a landmark moment in the history of India’s freedom struggle.
“Now, when farmers go to mandis to sell their produce they will be able to do so with ease at any place across the country,” said the Prime Minister, who released a stamp to mark the centenary.
In addition, Modi noted that the Centre had allocated ₹40,000 crore for the development of rural infrastructure in the budget for financial year 2021-22, which has been described by many economists as a growth-oriented package aimed at boosting the pandemic-ravaged economy.
”Farmers will directly benefit from investment in the infrastructure sector,” the PM said. “The decision of the Centre will make farmers atmanirbhar (self-reliant). Agriculture will turn into a profitable venture for farmers.”
February 4 marks 100 years of an event that took place in Chauri Chaura, a village in Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh, known as United Province in British India, when a large group of protesters participating in Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement clashed with the police, who opened fire. In retaliation, the protestors set fire to a police station. The incident left three civilians and 22 policemen dead. Days later, a saddened Gandhi halted the non-cooperation movement.
Modi said the fire lit by the protestors was not confined to the police precinct. It reached the hearts of the people of India, infusing them with the desire for achieving independence from colonial rule.
Modi’s speech has come amid protests by thousands of farmers massed on the borders of the national capital demanding the repeal of three contentious laws pushed through by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government.
The laws aim to ease restrictions on trade in farm produce by setting up free markets, which will co-exist with regulated markets, allow food traders to stockpile large stocks of food for future sales and lay down a national framework for contract farming based on written agreements.
Farm unions say free markets under the laws will erode their bargaining power, weaken a system of assured prices and make them vulnerable to exploitation by corporate giants. The Supreme Court put the three laws on hold on January 12.
In his speech, Modi said farmers had contributed record foodgrain production during the pandemic year, and become the base of progress achieved by the country.
Modi said the Swamitwa Yojana (Ownership Scheme) launched by the government in Uttar Pradesh last year will also benefit farmers, who will receive documents of ownership of their land and houses. The ownership document will not only raise the value of their property, but they will also get loan from banks with ease, Modi said.
“Efforts of the government are changing the scenario in the Gorakhpur region, known as the land of revolutionaries. Earlier, factories were closed, roads were damaged and hospitals remained closed. Now, the Gorakhpur fertiliser factory is starting. Farmers will benefit and young people will get employment, :he said.
Modi said the Budget will enable the country meet the challenges on the road ahead in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Before the budget was presented, several experts said the country faces a crisis and the centre will have to increase taxes, put the burden on the common man. But the centre ensured that no burden was put on the people,” Modi said.
The Centre has, instead, decided to increase spending to accelerate development. “Expenditure will be on construction of wide roads to connect villages with towns, mandis and markets; construction of bridges, laying of railway tracks, starting new trains, buses; improvement of education; to provide more opportunities of employment to the young,” he said.
He also mentioned India’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and its vaccination drive from which, Modi said, several countries were drawing lessons. Alongside manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines, India is exporting them to countries who need them, he said.
“Now, the Centre is working to provide quality medical facilities to people in rural areas so that they do not have to go to cities for treatment of minor health problems. To ensure that they do not face any problem in getting medical services, a big decision has been taken in the budget — now modern testing laboratories will be established in each district and people will get health services in villages too. The Centre has increased the budget allocation for the health sector,” he said.
Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee president Ajay Kumar Lallu said the Prime Minister should also have paid tribute to the 150 farmers who have died in the course of the protest, accusing the government of betraying farmers. “Farmers across the country have united to launch a movement against the government, he said.
Bahujan Samaj Party president Mayawati has demanded a repeal of the three laws in solidarity with the protesting farmers, the party’s general secretary Lalji Verma said. “Instead of talking with the farmers, the central government is trying to suppress their movement. It clearly shows the anti- farmer attitude of the central government,” Verma said.
Samajwadi Party’s national president and former UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav said the Bharatiya Janata Party should take a lesson from the Chauri Chaura movement, and repeal the three laws.
Hem Chandra Singh, president of the Purvanchal Kisan Union, said that instead of talking to the farmers, the Centre was trying to suppress their agitation, which is against the spirit of the freedom struggle and the ideals of Chauri Chaura activists.