‘Delhi Chalo’ protests | Why farmers are marching to Delhi?

Updated - February 16, 2024 11:59 am IST

Published - February 14, 2024 05:13 pm IST - NEW DELHI/MUMBAI

Police fire tear gas canisters on protesting farmers as they were advancing towards Delhi to seek enactment of a law on minimum support price, at Shambhu Barrier in Punjab on February 13, 2024.

Police fire tear gas canisters on protesting farmers as they were advancing towards Delhi to seek enactment of a law on minimum support price, at Shambhu Barrier in Punjab on February 13, 2024. | Photo Credit: Shashi Shekhar Kashyap

Police fired teargas on February 13 at hundreds of farmers and supporters during their protest march to New Delhi to demand better prices for their produce.

Also Read | Farmers’ protest 2024, Bharat bandh Live Updates

Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, the Narendra Modi government wants to avoid any major confrontation with the farmers.

The Modi government also aims to prevent a repeat of a year-long protest in 2020-21 when the farmers forced the government to scarp three farm laws.

Why are farmers protesting?

Farm union leaders are seeking guarantees, backed by law, a minimum support price (MSP) for crops.

The government announces support prices for more than 20 crops each year to set a benchmark, but state agencies buy only rice and wheat at the support level, benefiting around just 7% of farmers .

State agencies buy the two staples at government-fixed minimum support prices to build reserves to run the world's biggest food welfare programme that entitles 800 million Indians to free rice and wheat. This costs the government $24.7 billion (over ₹2,000 crore) annually — its largest outgoing subsidy.

In 2021, when the Modi government repealed the farm laws after India's longest farmer protests in years, the government said it would set up a panel of growers and government officials to find ways to ensure support prices for all produce. Farmers accuse the government of going slow in fulfilling that promise.

Farm policy experts argue that buying all farm produce at state-set minimum support prices is economically unviable.

The farmer protests coincide with similar demonstrations by their counterparts in Europe, but, other than rising costs of cultivation, the concerns raised by European and Indian farmers are different.

While Europe's farmers are protesting the European Union's drive to fight climate change, among other issues, Indian growers are more focused on state-set assured prices for their crops.

Also Read | SKM writes to PM ahead of Gramin Bharat Bandh, slams govt action of ‘Dilli Chalo’ protest

Do farmers have other demands?

They also want the government to honour a promise to double their incomes, complaining that costs of cultivation have jumped over the past few years while incomes have stagnated, making farming a loss-making enterprise.

In 2016 PM Modi's government pledged to step up investment in rural development, aiming to double farmer incomes by 2022.

Farmers also insist that the government ensure at a least 50% profit over their overall cost of production.

They have further asked the government take action against a Union Minister whose son was arrested during the 2021 protest on accusations he ran over and killed four protesting farmers.

Also Read | Centre rules out MSP law; talks with farmers may resume

How long can farmers sustain protests and what can the government offer?

Farmers have time on their side and are in no hurry to head back to the countryside to gather their crops. The new season wheat crop will be ready for harvest only a month from now.

Since 2021, Indian farmers have become adept at reinforcing and maintaining protest tent camps along highways while still bringing their crops to harvest.

To placate protesters, the government might agree to provide them a bonus over and above the minimum support price for 2024. It has fixed this year's minimum support price for wheat at ₹2,275/100 kg, 7% higher than in 2023.

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