Modi’s farm reforms: a route out of Indian poverty?

 

Modi’s farm reforms: a route out of Indian poverty?

The “immovable object and the unstoppable force” are locked in a stalemate, said The Economic Times (Mumbai). For two months now, tens of thousands of India’s farmers have been camping at the outskirts of Delhi to protest against controversial agricultural reforms. The Government insists that the new laws – which would open up the system, allowing farmers to sell their produce directly to private businesses rather than to government-controlled wholesale markets – will benefit farmers and boost production. But farmers believe the laws will leave them at the mercy of the markets, threaten their subsidies and allow powerful cartels to dominate agriculture. Narendra Modi’s administration offered last week to put the reforms on hold for 18 months while a joint committee sought a solution. Farmers’ unions rejected this compromise, saying they would accept nothing less than the full repeal of the laws.

All power to them, said Prem Singh in The Indian Express (Noida). Over the past 30 years, the forces of unbridled capitalism have been steadily marching through India, plundering national resources in the “unabated pursuit of profits”. The farmers’ movement has at last challenged this trend. As the protests drag on, India’s government is losing face both at home and abroad, said Sumit Sharma in the Asia Times (Hong Kong). Last month, Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, expressed his solidarity with the farmers, and his concern for them, as have more than 100 British MPs and lords. This comes at a bad time for Modi, who wants to improve his image abroad after his “vocal support” for Donald Trump.

Modi must shoulder the blame for ramming these laws through with barely any consultation, said The Indian Express. This inevitably sowed distrust. It’s a shame, because the reforms make sense. Indian agriculture is in desperate need of reform. The subsidised system produces far more grain than is needed, at huge economic and environmental cost. Most of the protesting farmers come from India’s richest agricultural state of Punjab, said Sunil Jain in The Financial Express (Noida). They are “almost completely insulated from any market risk”, so have no incentive to modernise. If the state charged them for all the water they use, which is doing “tremendous damage to the water table”, that might change. It’s ironic that Modi is getting such grief for these laws when his administration is actually doing something right for once, said Derek Scissors on AEI.org (Washington DC). These reforms mimic “what China did 40 years ago, which itself set the stage for the industrial take-off many Indians long for”. In a country where more than half the people work on farms, the reforms introduce a crucial ingredient for development: more choices. They offer a route out of poverty for the 900 million Indians “nowhere close to middle income”. Government handouts won’t do that.

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