Indian police block roads to halt farmers’ march to New Delhi

Indian police have blocked roads leading to New Delhi as farmers march towards the capital to press for increased government support.

Government ministers were preparing to meet union leaders on Monday to discuss their demands for better crop prices, which were promised three years ago, amid protests aimed at forcing the repeal of laws designed to deregulate vast agricultural markets.

The roadblocks were set up in a bid to avoid a repeat of the protests in 2021, when thousands of farmers camped out on major highways leading to the country’s capital.

The farmers’ march comes just months before national elections in India, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is widely expected to win a third term. The country’s millions of farmers form an influential voting bloc and ruling parties try to keep growers on their side.

Television footage showed tractors driving towards Delhi from the northern Indian breadbasket states of Punjab and Haryana. Barriers, including barbed wire fencing and cement blocks, have been erected on the edge of the city. Police also issued orders prohibiting public gatherings in Delhi.

The farmers have come out after a call by union leaders to demand higher support or guaranteed prices for their produce and press the government to meet its promise to double farmers’ income.

Police barricades are erected on a national highway to stop farmers, who are marching towards New Delhi to press for the better crop prices promised to them in 2021, at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border in Ghaziabad, India, February 12, 2024. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

Police barricades on a national highway to stop farmers marching towards New Delhi, at the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border in Ghaziabad, India [Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

The government announces support prices for more than 20 crops each year to set a benchmark, but state agencies buy only rice and wheat at the support level, which benefits only about 6 percent of farmers who raise those two crops.

In 2021, tens of thousands of farmers staged a yearlong protest to persuade Modi to repeal three new laws passed the previous year.

The government said the laws were aimed at modernising India’s vast agriculture sector and that they would increase the income of the farmers by giving them more choices to sell their produce.

But the farmers said the laws would give private corporations control over the sector and deprive them of a minimum support price (MSP) guaranteed by the government for their produce.

Amid the pressure, Modi’s administration made a surprise U-turn, rolling back the controversial legislations.

A meeting between farmer leaders, representing different farm unions from across the country, and Union ministers Piyush Goyal and Arjun Munda is currently under way at the Mahatma Gandhi State Institute of Public Administration in Sector 26 here.

Besides farmer leaders, Punjab Cabinet Minister Kuldeep Singh Dhaliwal, state government's senior officers, including Chief Secretary Anurag Verma and Director-General of Police Gaurav Yadav are also present in the meeting that started at 6.35 pm.

According to sources, the talks are making little headway as farmers are adamant on getting legal guarantee for MSP. While the Centre has already assured them that some of their demands will be met, sources say that the farmer leaders are so far unwilling to relent till the time the debt waiver and legal guarantee for MSP are met.

The demands that have been accepted by the Centre include grant of Rs 10 lakh compensation to farmers injured in Lakhimpur Kheri; cancellation of FIRs during the 2020-21 farmers’ agitation; compensation and jobs for families of farmers killed in the agitation; and, improving the quality of seeds on all crops and revolving licences and imposing penalties on companies manufacturing and selling sub-standard seeds.

Regarding the farmers' demand for non-implementation of the Electricity Amendment Bill, the Centre has said that the matter is still under deliberation of the Standing Committee of Parliament.

Earlier, the farmer leaders, including Shiv Kumar Kakka of Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Mahasangh, K V Biju, Sarwan Singh Pandher, Sachin Mohapatra, Abhimanyu Kohar, Balwant Singh Behramke, Baldev Singh Sirsa and Jagjit Singh Dallewal, met at Amb Sahib Gurdwara, Mohali, for almost two hours before their sechduled meeting with the Central team.

The meeting is being held to resolve the issues raised by the farmer leaders for holding a ‘Dilli Chalo’ protest on Tuesday.

Though initially a three member team of ministers from the Centre were supposed to hold the second round of talks with the farmers today, the Union Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai has reportedly not joined in for the meeting.

The first round of meeting, facilitated by Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann, was held on February 8.Tractor-trolleys start from Punjab to join ‘Dilli Chalo’ march

Tractor-trolleys in large numbers on Monday set out from different parts of Punjab to join the planned farmers’ march towards Delhi.

More than 200 farmer unions are expected to participate in the ‘Dilli Chalo’ march on Tuesday to press the Central Government to accept their demands, including the enactment of a law to guarantee a minimum support price (MSP) for crops.

Authorities in Haryana have fortified the state’s border with Punjab at many places in Ambala, Jind, Fatehabad, Kurukshetra and Sirsa using concrete blocks, iron nails and barbed wire to scuttle the proposed march.

The Haryana Government has also imposed restrictions under section 144 of the CrPC in as many as 15 districts, prohibiting the assembly of five or more people and banning any kind of demonstration or march with tractor-trolleys.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non-Political) and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha have announced that more than 200 farm unions would head to Delhi on February 13.

Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee general secretary Sarwan Singh Pandher said a convoy of tractor-trolleys set out in the morning from Beas in Amritsar to assemble in Fatehgarh Sahib district.

Many farmers from Moga, Bathinda and Jalandhar districts have also started from their villages to join the march.

SKM (Non-Political) leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal said tractor-trolleys will assemble at Fatehgarh Sahib district and Mehlan Chowk in Sangrur on Monday evening.

In the national capital, traffic restrictions have been put in place and security arrangements intensified at the Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri borders ahead of the march to prevent vehicles carrying protesters from entering the city.

The Haryana Police and the Chandigarh Police have already issued traffic advisories, asking commuters to take alternative routes.

The Bharti Kisan Union (Doaba), which is part of the SKM, on Monday announced its support to the ‘Delhi Chalo’ march.

The SKM had spearheaded the 2020 agitation against the now-repealed farm laws. But this time, it is staying away from the ‘Delhi Chalo’ call of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non-Political) and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha.

Several farmer bodies like BKU (Charuni), BKU (Ekta Ugrahan), BKU (Lakhowal), and BKU (Rajewal) are not part of the Delhi Chalo protest

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