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India budget ignores farmers’ plight, protest leaders say | Reuters

Indian farmers angry at agricultural reforms said on Monday the annual budget failed to address their concerns, with no mention of raising incomes or generating jobs, and vowed to press on with their protests. Security personnel stand guard next to barricades outside the Parliament where annual budget is being presented in New Delhi, India, February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

Tens of thousands of farmers have camped out on the outskirts of New Delhi in protest against the laws introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in September.

The government says the new laws will open up opportunities for farmers. Protesters say the laws benefit large private buyers at the expense of growers.

In her annual budget, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman raised healthcare spending by 135% and lifted caps on foreigners investing in the insurance sector.

She raised the target of agricultural credit to 16.5 trillion rupees ($225.74 billion) from 15 trillion rupees and said the government would raise 300 billion rupees in the next fiscal year with a new tax to boost agricultural infrastructure.

“Forget about these targets,” protest leader Kirankumar Visa said. “There is not even one measure to either raise farmers’ income or generate jobs in the countryside. She didn’t talk about her government’s promise of doubling farmers’ income by 2022.”

Police and paramilitary forces dug ditches and spread razor wire across main roads into New Delhi to prevent farmers entering the capital as Sitharaman prepared to deliver the annual budget in parliament.

Internet and messaging services were blocked in several neighbourhoods.

“Although the government has tried to isolate farmers by using barricades, razor wire and shutting down the internet, we are determined to carry out our peaceful protests,” said Rakesh Tikait, president of one of the largest farmers’ unions, the Bharti Kisan Union.

A farmers’ procession turned violent on Republic Day on Jan. 26, when some protesters broke away from a rally of tractors to storm the historic Red Fort complex.

($1 = 73.09 rupees) Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Nick Macfie

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