Indian police block roads to halt farmers marching to New Delhi

By Thomson Reuters Feb 12, 2024 | 2:05 AM

By Shivam Patel and Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian police on Monday blocked roads to halt farmers who were marching to New Delhi to press for the better crop prices promised to them in 2021 when thousands of growers camped out on major highways leading to the country’s capital.

Some government ministers are expected to meet farm union leaders on Monday to avoid a repeat of the year-long protest, which was aimed at forcing the government to repeal farm laws designed to deregulate vast agricultural markets.

The march comes just months before national elections in India, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is widely expected to win a third term.

India’s millions of farmers form an influential voting bloc and ruling parties try to keep growers on their side.

Television footage showed farmers in tractors driving towards Delhi from the northern Indian breadbasket states of Punjab and Haryana, and barriers including barbed wire fencing and cement blocks put up on the edges of the city to stop them. 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.

“We will move peacefully and our objective is that the government listen to our demands,” Sarvan Singh Pandher, general secretary of Punjab Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, told news agency ANI.

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In 2021, when Modi’s administration repealed the farm laws after the farmers protested, the government said it would set up a panel of growers and government officials to find ways to ensure support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

Farmers accuse the government of going slow that promise.

(Reporting by Shivam Patel and Mayank Bhardwaj. Editing by Gerry Doyle)