Indian police have blocked roads leading to New Delhi as farmers march towards the capital to press for increased government support.
Government ministers were preparing to meet union leaders on Monday to discuss their demands for better crop prices, which were promised three years ago, amid protests aimed at forcing the repeal of laws designed to deregulate vast agricultural markets.
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The roadblocks were set up in a bid to avoid a repeat of the protests in 2021, when thousands of farmers camped out on major highways leading to the country’s capital.
The farmers’ march comes just months before national elections in India, in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is widely expected to win a third term. The country’s millions of farmers form an influential voting bloc and ruling parties try to keep growers on their side.
Television footage showed tractors driving towards Delhi from the northern Indian breadbasket states of Punjab and Haryana. Barriers, including barbed wire fencing and cement blocks, have been erected on the edge of the city. 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 percent of farmers who raise those two crops.
In 2021, tens of thousands of farmers staged a yearlong protest to persuade Modi to repeal three new laws passed the previous year.
The government said the laws were aimed at modernising India’s vast agriculture sector and that they would increase the income of the farmers by giving them more choices to sell their produce.
But the farmers said the laws would give private corporations control over the sector and deprive them of a minimum support price (MSP) guaranteed by the government for their produce.
Amid the pressure, Modi’s administration made a surprise U-turn, rolling back the controversial legislations.