Modi vows to help farmers after land bill standoff

Modi vows to help farmers after land bill standoff

MATHURA, India - Prime Minister Narendra Modi vowed Monday to improve the lot of India's beleaguered farmers, promising non-stop power and better irrigation, as he battles to win approval for a controversial land bill.

At a mass rally to mark the first anniversary of his inauguration, Modi told thousands of supporters that he had attacked corruption in his first 12 months in office and ended the "looting" of the country.

But in his address in a mainly rural district, Modi acknowledged farmers faced tough times. He insisted he had their welfare at heart, after criticism that legislation designed to make it easier for businesses to acquire farmland would worsen their plight.

Modi was put on the defensive last month by the suicide of a farmer at a rally in New Delhi against the land bill, a death seized on by opponents as an example of his administration's insensitivity towards those on the land.

But the premier said some 300,000 struggling farmers had killed themselves since independence.

"We don't have to do politics on this issue but we must understand that an Indian has died. Farmers are facing a lot of issues," the right-wing prime minister told the rally at Mathura in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Modi promised that his government was working to improve the quality of soil and seeds as well as upgrading the efficiency of the largely state-run fertiliser industry.

"We have planned a prime minister's irrigation scheme which will reach every farmer within five years," he said.

"We promise to provide 24x7 electricity to farmers. Our levels of electricity generation have increased in the last one year."

The land bill has proved the most contentious piece of legislation since Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stormed to victory last May, encountering major obstacles in parliament.

Protests by farmers, led by the main opposition Congress party, have drawn tens of thousands of people and served as a rallying point for anger among the rural poor towards the new government.

The proposed bill exempts projects related to defence, rural housing and power, along with industrial corridors, from the requirement that 80 per cent of the affected landowners must agree to a sale.

It also scraps the need for a "social impact assessment" to find out how many people would be affected by the loss of land.

According to the last census in 2011, India has around 120 million farmers and an additional 145 million agricultural labourers.

 

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