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New Delhi: Hundreds of tractors took over highways in Punjab on Monday in a symbolic protest against a clutch of central ordinances which seeks to overhaul India’s internal trade regime in agriculture. Monday’s protest follows a similar show of disapproval by farmers in Haryana and Punjab last week.

In June, the centre brought in three new ordinances amending the Essential Commodities Act, allowing barrier free trade in farm produce across states, and introducing a new contract farming model.

Farmers in Punjab and Haryana fear that a larger role of private players in farm trade will weaken the minimum support price (MSP) regime. Farmers from these states are the largest beneficiaries of MSP based procurement of wheat and paddy which is disbursed under the central the food subsidy scheme.

Apart from the repeal of the ordinances, the farmers are also asking the government to lower diesel prices which has led to rising input costs.

“Central ministers have recently said that crop support prices are higher than domestic and international crop prices. Earlier government committees have advocated for reducing MSP based procurement. The recent ordinances will pave the way for a new system where farmers will suffer," said Jagmohan Singh, general secretary of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda), one among several farmer bodies which participated in Monday’s protest.

As a part of the protest, the farmers also demonstrated before the residences of Parliament members from the Shiromani Akali Dal, an ally of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party in the central government.

The Punjab government had earlier expressed its reservations against the ordinances since crop purchases outside regulated wholesale markets in the new regime will lead to the state losing precious tax revenues.

Regulated wholesale markets in the state is a significant contributor to the success of Green Revolution and ensured food security for the nation, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 15 June.

Singh added that levies and fees charged by regulated markets are used for the development and management of mandis, creation of rural marketing and support infrastructure, and welfare of farmers.

So far Chhattisgarh is the only state other than Punjab which has objected to the central ordinances.

“Over 90% of farmers in India do not get the benefit of support prices, so a fourth ordinance making MSPs a legal entitlement will actually free farmers," said Devinder Sharma, a farm policy expert.

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