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Tractor protests in India - What is happening?

New anti-pollution regulations could result in farmers suffering historic income loss

by: Naomi Martin

In Delhi’s neighbouring states of Punjab and Harayana, farmers of India began protesting, petitioning, and going on strike. These events have recently culminated in the 26th January tractor protests when farmers drove into barricades and faced tear gas as they arrived at the Red Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But what made the farmers protesting? Naomi Martin investigates.

Photo courtesy of Bishnu Sarangi via Pixabay.

In 2016, India’s government had first temporarily banned the use of fireworks because of the increasing pollution problems. This ban was reinstated the following years around Diwali, including in 2019. The weeks that followed demonstrated why this measure was necessary. The pollution was thick all around. Masks were distributed in schools and emergency policies were put in place to limit car usage.

As of 29th January 2021, the highest parts per million (ppm) in the UK was 65, whereas in Delhi that figure was 338. For reference, the ppm scale starts from level ‘good’ and finishes at ‘hazardous’, the latter marking the end of the measurement scale finishing at 300+ ppm. Thus, the current working scale does not even accommodate the pollution experienced in the first month of 2021.

Whilst people started to develop coughs, one could find themselves wearing a mask or covering their face with scarves and filling their apartment with plants in the hope of purifying the air.

Nevertheless, this pollution was not primarily caused by the fireworks but by the farming practice of burning the stubs of crops to clear fields. This was done in the absence of better farming equipment as a result of underfunding. The south-easterly wind then carried this smog cloud over the city and added it to the firework and car fumes.

View of West of Delhi. Photo courtesy of jepoirrier via Creative Commons. License CC BY-SA 2.0

In November 2020 the Indian Government proposed three bills that would result in the loss of laws which have traditionally protected these farmers from the free market. By creating a national structure for farmers to privately sell their produce, many believe the Mandi system will be abolished. This market system currently offers a Minimum Support Price (MSP) which guarantees the farmers a sure income without which the farmers could potentially be facing an all-time low-income rate.

These visionary bills are an attempt to reform the system in which about 40% of the population is involved.

A reason for the advocation of these bills was a step towards an economic boost for farmers and for the nation. With this, better farming equipment could have been bought, and a better standard of living could have been introduced. However, although these laws allow the farmers to potentially gain more than they did through the Mandi system, it also allows the possibility of greater loss.

This loss, for many, is unaffordable.

Considering these protests, the government is said to be considering waiting between 12 to 18 months before the laws are fully passed if protests are dissolved. Additionally, they have offered to amend the bills. This resolution, nonetheless, remains unsatisfactory to many and the call for their repeal remains.

Pollution in India is causing a dangerously increasing problem. There is an unequivocal need for reforming the agricultural system. A quick and satisfactory conclusion for these issues must therefore be a priority.


The article is an entry to the 2021 Writing Competition of The Gaudie International.


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