India’s President Ram Nath Kovind signs three controversial agricultural bills into law amid protests

President of India Ram Nath Kovind speaks during his state visit to Switzerland, at the Muensterplatz in Bern, Switzerland.

India’s president on Sunday approved three controversial agricultural bills amid nationwide protests by farmers who say the new laws will stunt their bargaining power and instead allow large retailers to have control over pricing.

Farmers’ organisations say one of the three laws could lead to the government stopping buying grain at guaranteed prices, a move that would disrupt wholesale markets which have so far ensured fair and timely payments to farmers.

President Ram Nath Kovind’s approval is likely to further stir protests, leading farmers’ organisations said.

Farmers sit on a road as they block a national highway during a protest against farm bills passed by the parliament, in Shambhu, Punjab, India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already lost a key political ally from the northern Indian state of Punjab, one of India’s two bread basket states, where farmers form an influential voting bloc.

The country’s main opposition Congress party has also backed the protests.

Under the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill – one of the laws already approved by parliament – growers can directly sell their produce to institutional buyers such as big traders and retailers.

Nearly 85% of India’s poor farmers own less than 2 hectares (5 acres) of land and they find it difficult to directly negotiate with large buyers.

Modi’s administration has clarified that the wholesale markets will operate as usual, and the government only aims to empower farmers to sell directly to buyers.

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