Indian farmers to march to Delhi after talks with ministers fail

By Thomson Reuters Feb 12, 2024 | 11:26 PM

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian farmers plan to continue a protest march to New Delhi on Tuesday after talks with ministers failed to make progress on issues including better crop prices promised in 2021 when thousands camped on highways leading to the capital.

The march, the latest in a series of such protests going back more than two years, comes months ahead of national elections in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi will seek a third term, with farmers forming an influential voting bloc.

Participants in the latest march, however, include only a section of farmers from a handful of northern states.

Farm unions hope to force the government to make a law committing to provide higher state support or price guarantees, and honour promises to double farmers’ income.

Talks on Monday between union leaders and the government failed to yield results, with farmers saying that the government was dragging its feet on meeting their demands.

“The government has not been able to make a strong decision on anything… We thought that giving time is not suitable now,” Sarwan Singh Pandher, the general secretary of Punjab Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC), told ANI news agency.

Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda told reporters after the talks that some issues had been resolved but more discussions were needed.

“Any problem can be solved with discussion. We are hopeful that we will bring solutions,” he said.

Police have prohibited large gatherings in New Delhi and blocked sections of major routes leading to the capital from the northern state of Punjab from where most of the farmers are starting their march.

Farmers from states including the northern breadbaskets of Punjab and Haryana were ready to march to Delhi, KMSC president Sukhwinder Singh Sabhra told ANI late on Monday.

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% of farmers who raise those two crops.

In 2021, when Modi’s administration repealed the farm laws after the farmers protested, the government said it would set up a panel of growers and government officials to find ways to ensure support prices for all farm produce.

(Reporting by Shivam Patel in New Delhi; Editing by Stephen Coates)