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13 Feb, 2024 11:53

New Delhi fortifies borders as farmers in tractors descend on capital

Over 200 unions are staging the protest, urging government to enact laws guaranteeing minimum prices for agricultural commodities
New Delhi fortifies borders as farmers in tractors descend on capital

Roads leading into India’s capital New Delhi from surrounding states were sealed on Tuesday and security beefed up as members of over 200 farmers’ unions made their way towards the capital to demand a legal guarantee of a minimum support price for their crops. 

There was chaos on Tuesday morning at border crossings between Delhi and the neighboring states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, as police resorted to firing tear gas trying to deter various farm groups from removing barricades and entering the capital. City authorities had earlier prohibited large gatherings and intensified border-point checks. More than a thousand police personnel have been deployed at access points to the city to stop the protesters.

Around 25,000 farmers and 5,000 tractors have been mobilized for the demonstration, Indian media reported. The combined unions are demanding a set of measures from central government that would help secure the financial viability of farming, including minimum fixed prices for crops.

A group of farmers from states further south who were heading to Delhi to take part in the protest were arrested in central India’s Madhya Pradesh. There were also reports that police had put nails on some sections of roads to prevent vehicles from passing. 

In anticipation of the farmers’ action, the federal government applied to turn a local stadium into a makeshift ‘jail’ to detain potential troublemakers. However, the capital’s local government turned down the request, citing the right to protest. India’s central government is led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) but the national capital is ruled by the rival Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

The protest was launched after the meeting between prominent leaders of the farmers’ movement with the federal ministers Piyush Goyal and Arjun Munda on Monday failed to reach any consensus. According to Munda, the government needed time “to understand this issue and find a method” to come up with a solution. 

In addition to their demand for agreed support prices, Indian farmers want New Delhi to provide freedom from debt, to increase taxes on imported produce, to cancel free-trade and other agreements with the World Trade Organization, and to ban foreign direct investment in the agriculture sector. 

This is the second massive protest by farmers in the current term of the Narendra Modi-led government. In 2020-2021, they protested over various bills meant to deregulate and open up agricultural markets to the private sector. The legislation was introduced by the Modi administration through an executive order and passed by Parliament. The move triggered massive protests all along Delhi’s outskirts that went on for over a year. Over 600 people died during that protest, according to media reports, as farmers also battled rain, heat and cold. The laws were eventually rolled back, an act widely seen as conceding to the farmers’ activism.

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