Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Tens of thousands of farmers descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Tens of thousands of farmers descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup

Delta council stands in solidarity with protesting Indian farmers

Farmers have been protesting for months new laws they say leave them open to corporate exploitation

Delta’s mayor and council stand in solidarity with protesting farmers in India.

On Monday, council voted unanimously in favour of a motion from Mayor George Harvie resolving that the city “stands in solidarity with the Indian farmers, and supports their rights to speak out against these laws and any repressive measures against Indian citizens and their rights to expression and liberty.”

In a statement read at Monday’s council meeting, Harvie noted that thousands of British Columbians, including Delta residents, have family, friends and loved ones that are directly and indirectly impacted by this issue, and he has heard from scores of residents who have shared their deep concern over the situation.

“Many of them have multi-generational ties to farming communities in the Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan in India, and are increasingly worried for the safety and financial security of their loved ones,” Harvie said. “It has been extremely stressful for them to witness the reaction to the farmers’ peaceful protests over the last four months.”

A memo to council pertaining to Harvie’s motion says farmers in India have been protesting since August against three bills which they belive will drive down prices and remove safeguards to protect them against corporate takeovers.

The farmers also claim the government did not hold sufficient consultation before signing the bills into law in September, and are calling for the acts to be repealed.

The staff memo offers a brief summary of the three laws at the heart of the protests:

• The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill allows farmers to deal directly with corporations and private buyers, as opposed to doing business through the Indian government. Prior to this, the government provided farmers with “minimum support pricing,” a fixed price that insures farmers against any substantial falls in farm prices.

• The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill requires farmers, corporations and private buyers to negotiate contracts with promised “price assurance,” rather than a regulated price set by the Indian government.

• The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill aims to modernize India’s food supply chain by reducing stockpiling and removing commodities like “cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes” from the current list of essential commodities. It also aims to promote investment in cold storage and give farmers the freedom to produce, move, distribute and supply their products.

The staff memo notes India’s agricultural sector employs 60 per cent of the 1.27 billion people in India and accounts for 23 per cent of the country’s GDP, however the annual income of a farming household in 2017 was 36,938 rupees — approximately $642. A majority of farmers own less than one hectare of land and live precariously from one harvest to the next.

In January, India’s Supreme Court issued an order suspending the bills and appointing a committee to oversee negotiations.

The protests — which have been met with tear gas, water cannons and violence, resulting in the deaths of more than 300 protesters — have inspired marches and rallies around the world, including here in the Lower Mainland, and are now considered one of the largest protests in history.

The Indian government’s harsh treatment of the protesters and actions restricting access to the internet have prompted criticism from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and the governments of Canada, British Columbia and other provinces have spoken out in support of the farmers.

Harvie said the right to protest peacefully, as well as the media’s right to report what is happening, is a cornerstone of democracy, and the intention of his motion is to support the farmers’ rights to free expression and liberty while condemning any repressive measures to curtail their ongoing peaceful protests.

“Canada has been a consistently strong voice for the protection of human rights and the advancement of democratic values, and we take our human rights obligations seriously,” Harvie said.

“The widespread support from elected officials across party lines from all levels of our government for the protesting farmers is a testament to our duty to promote and protect human rights under international law and the United Nations charter.”

Meantime, Surrey council is set to consider a similar motion introduced by Mayor Doug McCallum on Monday. Surrey council will vote on McCallum’s motion on April 26.

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