Indian protests growing as ‘anti-farm’ peace offer nixed

Indian protests growing as ‘anti-farm’ peace offer nixed
Farmers gather around a buffalo cart as they shout slogans during a protest against the newly passed farm bills on Wednesday. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 December 2020

Indian protests growing as ‘anti-farm’ peace offer nixed

Indian protests growing as ‘anti-farm’ peace offer nixed
  • New laws ‘could leave farmers landless, at mercy of corporate players’

NEW DELHI: Farmers’ protests across the Indian capital New Delhi have gained momentum as several new groups joined from various parts of the country on Wednesday.

Protesters repeated their demands for the government to scrap new agricultural laws which they say could destroy their livelihoods by opening up the sector to private players.

However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government argues that the laws passed in September would allow farmers to be self-sufficient by setting their prices and selling produce directly to private firms, such as supermarket chains.

Farmers are not buying that and say that the new laws would instead pave the way for the government to stop buying the crops at guaranteed prices, leaving them at the “mercy of private buyers” fixing prices.

Bhanu Pratar Singh, president of the Indian Farmers’ Association, said: “Our basic demand is that the government gives us in writing that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) that the government gives to farm produce should be codified in law in the farm laws.”

Protests escalated last week when tens of thousands of farmers marched to New Delhi, with a majority saying that the new laws would also allow traders to stockpile grains, which they fear will lead to rising prices and more profit for traders amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The demonstrations led to clashes with police, who used tear gas, water cannons and batons against protesters.

Farmers sell their products at wholesale markets owned by the government, which also sets the MSP for grains.

All of that could change with the entry of new market players in the agricultural sector, where individual market prices could supersede the MSP, Jagjit Singh Dalewal of the Indian Farmers’ Union, a joint forum for 30 farm unions, told Arab News.

“It will leave us at the mercy of the big business houses. We don’t want that uncertainty,” he said.

“The traditional market system and the MSP have sustained farmers in Punjab and Haryana for a long time. They assured us a guaranteed price which is higher than the market. The new farm laws deprive us of that,” Dalewal added.

On Tuesday, talks between officials and the farmers’ union failed after the latter rejected an offer to establish a committee on the issue.

A joint statement released by farmers’ groups said that they found the offer “an attempt to buy time without addressing the real issue.”

The next round of talks is expected to begin on Thursday.

“Most of the farmers in India have small landholding, and they cannot compete with the big corporate houses,” Sunil Pradhan, a farmer based in Greater Noida, a suburban city of Delhi, told Arab News.

“A farmer having less than two hectares of land cannot have bargaining power with the corporate groups. He will succumb to pressure and become a pawn in the hands of the big players. Such farmers need government protection,” he added.

The government says that the new laws are not “anti-farmer.”

“The new agricultural law implemented by the government is not anti-farmer at all,” Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankara Prasad said on Wednesday.

“Under this bill, the safety net of the MSP will remain and will also add new options that the farmers have. Farmers will be able to enter into direct agreements for sale of food grains with production companies,” he tweeted on Wednesday.

Economists have questioned the claims, drawing attention to the “genuine” concerns of farmers.

“Many small farmers are worried that the free market in the agriculture sector will dispossess many small farmers of their lands, which will become corporatized, and they will become landless,” New Delhi-based Prof. Arun Kumar of Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Arab News.

“The government is not doing enough to address the existential concerns of the farmers,” he added.

Kumar said that “86 percent of the farmers are small farmers and cultivate less than 2 hectares of land.”

He added: “They generate a small income, and fear that the new laws will not give them the right kind of prices and that they will become landless laborers.”

Most of the farmers have camped along the Delhi border for the past week and refuse to move to a designated protest site allocated by the government.

“We have been protesting since September in Punjab, but the government has been ignoring us. Now we are at the gate of Delhi and suddenly the government is desperate to engage us for talks,” Punjab-based farmer Sarwan Pandher told Arab News.

According to one estimate, more than 50,000 farmers are camping in different borders of Delhi, with medical professionals sounding the alarm over a possible spike in coronavirus cases due to the large gatherings.

“I blame the government for playing with the lives of the people. They should understand the gravity of the pandemic and address the farmer issue urgently,” Dr. Harjit Singh Bhatti of Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum told Arab News.


Biden’s US revives support for WHO, reversing Trump retreat

Biden’s US revives support for WHO, reversing Trump retreat
Updated 8 min 23 sec ago

Biden’s US revives support for WHO, reversing Trump retreat

Biden’s US revives support for WHO, reversing Trump retreat
  • President Joe Biden’s top adviser on the pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says the US will again fund the WHO
  • Trump's US halted funding for the UN health agency — stripping it of badly needed cash as it was battling a health crisis
GENEVA: The United States will resume funding for the World Health Organization and join its consortium aimed at sharing coronavirus vaccines fairly around the globe, President Joe Biden’s top adviser on the pandemic said Thursday, renewing support for an agency that the Trump administration had pulled back from.
Dr. Anthony Fauci’s quick commitment to the WHO — whose response to the pandemic has been criticized by many, but perhaps most vociferously by the Trump administration — marks a dramatic and vocal shift toward a more cooperative approach to fighting the pandemic.
“I am honored to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organization,” Fauci told a virtual meeting of the WHO from the United States, where it was 4:10 a.m. in Washington. It was the first public statement by a member of Biden’s administration to an international audience — and a sign of the priority that the new president has made of fighting COVID-19 both at home and with world partners.
Just hours after Biden’s inauguration Wednesday, he wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres saying the US had reversed the planned pullout from the WHO that was expected to take effect in July.
The withdrawal from the WHO was rich with symbolism — another instance of America’s go-it-alone strategy under Trump. But it also had practical ramifications: The US halted funding for the UN health agency — stripping it of cash from the country that has long been its biggest donor just as the agency was battling the health crisis that has killed more than 2 million people worldwide. The US had also pulled back staff from the organization.
Fauci said the Biden administration will resume “regular engagement” with WHO and will “fulfill its financial obligations to the organization.”
The WHO chief and others jumped in to welcome the US announcements.
“This is a good day for WHO and a good day for global health,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “The role of the United States, its role, global role is very, very crucial.”
The two men hinted at a warm relationship between them, with Fauci calling Tedros his “dear friend” and Tedros referring to Fauci as “my brother Tony.”
The White House said later Thursday that Vice President Kamala Harris had discussed many of the same themes as Fauci raised in a call with Tedros.
But she emphasized the need to beef up the global response to COVID-19, “mitigate its secondary impacts, including on women and girls,” and work to “prevent the next outbreak from becoming an epidemic or pandemic,” the White House said in a statement.
“In addition, the vice president emphasized the importance of making America safer through global cooperation,” it added, highlighting the new tone out of Washington.
John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, called the renewed commitment “great news” in an email. “The world has always been a better place when the US plays a leadership role in solving global health problems including the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria, polio and other diseases,” he said.
Danish Health Minister Magnus Heunicke wrote on Facebook: “This is going to have a huge impact on the world’s ability to fight the pandemic. It is decisive that the United States is involved as a driving force and not a country that is looking for the exit when a global catastrophe rages.”
Fauci also said Biden will issue a directive Thursday that shows the United States’ intent to join the COVAX Facility, a project to deploy COVID-19 vaccines to people in need around the world — whether in rich or poor countries.
Under Trump, the US had been the highest-profile — and most deep-pocketed — holdout from the COVAX Facility, which has struggled to meet its goals of distributing millions of vaccines both because of financial and logistic difficulties.
WHO and leaders in many developing countries have repeatedly expressed concerns that poorer places could be the last to get COVID-19 vaccines, while noting that leaving vast swaths of the global population unvaccinated puts everyone at risk.
While vowing US support, Fauci also pointed to some key challenges facing WHO. He said the US was committed to “transparency, including those events surrounding the early days of the pandemic.”
One of the Trump administration’s biggest criticisms was that the WHO reacted too slowly to the outbreak in Wuhan, China, and was too accepting of and too effusive about the Chinese government’s response to it. Others have also shared those criticisms — but public health experts and many countries have argued that, while the organization needs reform, it remains vital.
Referring to a WHO-led probe looking for the origins of the coronavirus by a team that is currently in China, Fauci said: “The international investigation should be robust and clear, and we look forward to evaluating it.”
He said the US would work with WHO and partner countries to “strengthen and reform” the agency, without providing specifics.
At the White House later in the day, Fauci quipped to Jeff Zients, who is directing the national response to the coronavirus, “You can imagine the comments we were getting from the people in the WHO.”
Then he added, his voice trailing off, “They were lining up to thank ...”