Indian PM makes fresh appeal to farmers protesting over new laws
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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday offered to hold fresh talks to end a stalemate over new agricultural reforms, in his latest push to win over farmers protesting for almost a month against the move.
Tens of thousands of farmers have been camping out near several entry points to New Delhi since November 26 against three new laws they say will lead to dismantling of regulated markets.
They also fear the government would stop buying wheat and rice at guaranteed prices, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates.
In a speech beamed live to millions of farmers across the country, Modi sought to allay their misgivings, insisting the laws, passed in September, would give them the freedom to sell their produce "anywhere and to anyone they like".
"Lies are being spread that the local mandis (markets) will shut down, the minimum support price will be stopped... don't be misguided by those having political motives," Modi, 70 said.
Modi also released $2.5 billion to 90 million farmers under a financial scheme that his party launched last year.
Under the direct cash transfer scheme, small farmers get 6,000 rupees ($82) in four instalments in a year.
Modi also interacted with seven farmers from different states via a video conference in which they praised the government's various farm schemes.
Agriculture employs about 70 percent of India's 1.3 billion people and accounts for 15 percent of its $2.7 trillion economy.
But in recent decades farm incomes have stagnated, and experts say the sector badly needs investment and modernisation.
Farmer unions have demanded a total repeal of the laws and warned of a bigger agitation if their demands are not met.
Several rounds of talks between ministers and farmer leaders have failed to produce a breakthrough so far.