Farmers resume Delhi protest push after talks fail

Published February 22, 2024
PUNJAB-HARYANA BORDER: Farmers run for cover amidst tear gas shelling by police to disperse them in the Shambhu area, where barriers have been placed on the roads to impede protesters’ progress towards the capital. The demonstrators are marching towards New Delhi to press for better crop prices, promised to them in 2021.—Reuters
PUNJAB-HARYANA BORDER: Farmers run for cover amidst tear gas shelling by police to disperse them in the Shambhu area, where barriers have been placed on the roads to impede protesters’ progress towards the capital. The demonstrators are marching towards New Delhi to press for better crop prices, promised to them in 2021.—Reuters

PATIALA: Thousands of Indian farmers riding tractors attempted to resume their push towards New Delhi on Wednesday after failing to reach a deal with the government on their demands for higher crop prices.

The protest hopes to replicate the year-long siege of highways into the capital that pressured Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government into abandoning its agricultural reform plans in 2021.

Police have kept a miles-long column of farmers atop agricultural machinery at bay since last week near the small village of Shambhu, several hours’ drive north of their intended destination.

Protesters again stared down efforts to disperse them with tear gas barrages and have vowed to push through a fearsome blockade of metal spikes and concrete barricades erected to halt their progress.

Farm unions demand law to set minimum price for all crops

“We assure you that we will break the barriers,” farmer Jagmohan Singh, 45, said. “Once we break it, we will only stop again in Delhi.”

Anticipating a fresh effort to push past their roadblocks, police dropped tear gas on the roadside protest encampment from drones flying overhead.

Farmers responded by distributing goggles and trying to bring down the aircraft by targeting them with slingshots and flying kites to obstruct their flight paths.

They have also brought bulldozers and excavators to the protest site, with the intention of charging through police barricades at an opportune moment.

Police in Haryana state warned owners not to provide the protesters with earthmovers, saying that they would be held criminally liable if the vehicles harmed officers.

A police statement denied reports broadcast by demonstrators that one farmer had been killed, and said a dozen police officers had been injured, some after being hit by sticks and stones.

Negotiations break down

Farm unions are demanding a law to set a minimum price on all crops, expanding a government scheme that already exists for staples, including rice and wheat.

They have also demanded other concessions, including the waiving of loans and universal pensions for farmers aged 60 and above.

Protesters temporarily paused their procession last week to await the outcome of negotiations between government ministers and unions.

They remained camped on the roadside, sustaining themselves at community kitchens, but announced their “March to Delhi” campaign would resume after several rounds of talks failed to reach a breakthrough.

Farm leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal told the Press Trust of India news agency on Monday that the latest government proposal — to expand price guarantees to some but not all crops — was “not in the interest of farmers”.

Two-thirds of India’s 1.4 billion people draw their livelihood from agriculture, accounting for nearly a fifth of the country’s GDP.

But for the past few decades, farm incomes have remained largely stagnant and the sector is in dire need of investment and modernisation.

Thousands of Indian farmers die by suicide every year because of poverty, debt and crops affected by ever-more erratic weather patterns caused by climate change.

Farmers have political influence due to their sheer numbers, and the renewed protests come ahead of national elections likely to begin in April.

A campaign against agricultural reform laws in November 2020 saw tens of thousands of farmers besiege roads into Delhi for more than a year.

The protest forced a rare backdown from Modi’s government when it suspended the laws a year later.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2024

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