• Saturday, Jan 16, 2021
  • Last Update : 01:59 am

Clashes erupt as farmers blocked from entering Delhi to protest over new law

  • Published at 04:17 pm November 27th, 2020
India Farmer Protest
A farmer brandishes a stick during a protest against the newly passed farm bills at Singhu border near Delhi on November 27, 2020 Reuters

Farmers make up a powerful voting block across India

Thousands of Indian farmers scuffled with police on Friday as they tried to march to the capital, Delhi, in protest against new laws liberalizing procurement that they say will leave them vulnerable to big companies.

Police fired tear gas at some places on the outskirts of Delhi and used water cannons at entry points to stop people coming into the city centre from the big farming state of Punjab.

Television showed plumes of smoke and some people throwing stones at police as thousands pressed against barricades, waving flags and sticks. Some rode tractors near the barriers.

"Although the police have tried to stop us with force, barricades and water cannons, we've decided to stay the course to make sure the government listens to the voice of millions of farmers," said protesting farmer Sukrampal Dhayana.

Under the laws enacted in September that Prime Minister Narendra Modi called a watershed for agriculture, farmers are free to sell their produce anywhere, including to big corporate buyers, instead of at government-regulated wholesale markets where farmers are assured of a minimum procurement price.

Many farmer organizations oppose the new law, saying it would leave small growers with little bargaining power. They also say they fear the government will eventually withdraw price support for wheat and rice.

The government says there is no plan to eliminate the wholesale markets.

Acting tough

As tensions rose, the Delhi police said it had urged the farmers to pull back in line with coronavirus restrictions in the capital under which large gatherings are not allowed.

At the Sindhu checkpoint on the highway leading to Delhi, hundreds of farmers sat down for a long wait.

Kulwant Singh, a 70-year-old farmer from Fatehgarh Sahib in Punjab, said his group had brought rations for six months and even cooking gas cylinders and were prepared to camp there until farmers were allowed in to Delhi.

"We are not going back," he said.

Farmers make up a powerful voting block across India and some leaders urged the Modi government not to crush the protests with an iron hand.

Senior cabinet ministers should talk to farmers' organizations to understand their apprehensions over the new rules passed by the government, the leaders of the United Farmers Forum said in a letter to Modi.

The government says the new law is aimed at making the vast agriculture sector more efficient by freeing up farmers who want to sell directly to big retailers such as Walmart.

Farm Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told ANI, a Reuters affiliate that he had already invited farm leaders for talks next week.


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