Farmers across many States in the country hit the streets on Friday, protesting against three farm Bills that seek to bring in sweeping changes in agricultural produce marketing regulations.

The nation-wide protest called by a number of farmer groups, most of them affiliated to the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, was near total in Punjab and Haryana, while widespread in States such as Karnataka, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. However, States such as Gujarat that witnessed only a muted response to the protest call.

Farmers were protesting against the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, and the Essential Commodities Amendment Bill — that the NDA government managed to get passed in Parliament over the last few days.

A statement from AIKSCC said, farmer unions are demanding that the President should not give his assent to these 'undemocratically' passsed Bills, the government should withdraw them and a Bill that provides legal guarantee for remunerative minimum support price to all farmers should be brought in.

While the first allows direct trade between farmers and private agribusiness firms outside designated mandis , the second prepares the ground for contract farming and the third takes away most restrictions on stock holding by the private firms.

Trains cancelled

Farmers blocked national highways and other major arterial roads in States such as Maharashtra, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Punjab and Haryana. Farmers in Punjab also blocked trains, forcing the Railways to cancel many trains and reschedule freight and parcel trains. In Tamil Nadu, farmers protested at hundreds of centres, prompting the police to take action against protesting leaders. In Kerala, farmers backed by trade unions and others marched to 250 Central government offices and held demonstrations. In Karnataka, members of 34 farmer, labour and Dalit groups blocked the highways and roads, staging protests in various locations across the State. Farm leaders, who met the State Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa and expressed their dissent against the Bills, said their protest would be intensified and a bandh has been called on Monday.

In Gujarat, the protests were confined to North Gujarat and that too mainly by market yard merchants to express their anger against the Centre’s decision to curtail the jurisdiction of APMCs for agri trade. Commission agents’ body, Unjha Marketyard Merchant Association at India's largest jeera market, observed a day’s strike opposing the Bills.

Jayanti Patel, President of the association, said, “This is a fight for our existence. We appealed to all the nearby APMCs merchants to join the strike today and we got support from some of them.”

Addressing a gathering in Hyderabad, CPI Telangana State Secretary Chada Venkata Reddy alleged that the farm Bills would adversely effect about 87 per cent of the farmers. Protest dharnas were also held in some district and mandal headquarters in the State.

Some other States such as Assam, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Uttarakhand witnessed some spontaneous protests by farmers and workers, a statement from All India Kisan Sabha said. While Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said these agricultural laws will enslave the farmers, CPIM General Secretary demanded their withdrawal.