Thousands of Farmers March Toward New Delhi to Protest

By Pratik Parija

Thousands of farmers, who are marching from various states toward India’s capital to protest against new farm laws they say will hurt their incomes, clashed with the police when stopped from entering the city.

Delhi Metro Rail Corp. said in a Twitter post it had temporarily shut six stations on the advice of the police. Two groups representing farmers -- the Samyukt Kisan Morcha and the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee -- said in a joint statement Friday they had sent a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting him to allow farmers to come to Delhi for talks.

“It becomes meaningless for the government to offer talks and not create a conducive atmosphere for such talks to happen,” the statement said.

The Delhi Police said on Friday afternoon that it had permitted farmers to peacefully gather at a ground at Burari, about 23 kilometers (14 miles) from parliament. According to the Press Trust of India, the police had stationed water cannons earlier in the day and used barbed wires at some Delhi border checkpoints. The police from neighboring Haryana state had placed cement and steel barricades and parked trucks to stop the farmers’ tractor-trolleys, the report said.

Analysts and industry experts say that a slew of reforms introduced by the Modi government in September have the potential to change the face of Indian agriculture, which has been hampered by low yields and inefficient smallholdings. The new rules make it easier to sell crops, while a rise in production would boost exports and farm incomes, they said.

However, farmers are worried that the new measures will eventually kill the government’s price support regime for crops and leave them at the mercy of big corporations that would control the market.

About 800 million of the country’s more than 1.3 billion population depend directly or indirectly on agriculture, which accounts for 16% of the $2.6 trillion economy. Farmers make up a powerful voting bloc in India, which is the world’s top grower of cotton, the second-biggest producer of wheat, rice and sugar, and the largest importer of palm oil.

Amarinder Singh, chief minister of the northern state of Punjab, asked the Modi government to immediately initiate talks with farmers to defuse the situation. Thousands of farmers from the state, the nation’s major wheat and rice grower, are taking part in the agitation.

Clashes

About 100 leaders representing farmers have been arrested in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, the two farmers’ groups said Thursday. The authorities in several states are trying to stop farmers from marching toward New Delhi, they said.

Before the government amended three agriculture-related laws, farmers in most states were restricted from selling their crops outside government-facilitated wholesale markets and faced legal hurdles in transporting harvests to other states.

“We want the three bills to be repealed in toto,” Yogendra Yadav, a member of the coordination committee told a virtual press conference this week. “We don’t subscribe to the view that” they are going to boost earnings of farmers, he said.

Central to the reforms is an amendment to the Essential Commodities Act, a 1955 law. Earlier, when prices rose due to higher demand, the law’s price-control measures kicked in, discouraging investment to increase production.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.