Wednesday, April 24, 2024
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Indian farmers resume Delhi protest push after talks fail

PATIALA (AFP) – Thousands of Indian farmers riding tractors attempted to resume their push towards New Delhi yesterday after failing to reach a deal with the government on their demands for higher crop prices.

The protest hopes to successfully replicate the year-long siege of highways into the capital that pressured Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government into abandoning its agricultural reform plans in 2021.

Police have kept a miles-long column of farmers atop agricultural machinery at bay since last week near the small village of Shambhu, several hours’ drive north of their intended destination.

Protesters again stared down efforts to disperse them with tear gas barrages and have vowed to push through a fearsome blockade of metal spikes and concrete barricades erected to halt their progress.

“We assure you that we will break the barriers,” farmer Jagmohan Singh, 45, told AFP.

“Once we break it, we will only stop again in Delhi.”

Anticipating a fresh effort to push past their roadblocks, police dropped tear gas on the roadside protest encampment from drones flying overhead.

Farmers take cover as police fire tear gas during their march to India’s capital. PHOTO: AFP

Farmers responded by distributing goggles and trying to bring down the aircraft by targeting them with slingshots and flying kites to obstruct their flight paths. They have also brought bulldozers and excavators to the protest site, with the intention of charging through police barricades at an opportune moment.

Police in Haryana state warned owners not to provide the protesters with earthmovers, saying that they would be held criminally liable if the vehicles harmed officers.

Farm unions are demanding a law to set a minimum price on all crops, expanding a government scheme that already exists for staples including rice and wheat.

They have also demanded other concessions including the waiving of loans and universal pensions for farmers aged 60 and above.

Protesters temporarily paused their procession last week to await the outcome of negotiations between government ministers and unions.

They remained camped on the roadside, sustaining themselves at community kitchens, but announced their ‘March to Delhi’ campaign would resume after several rounds of talks failed to reach a breakthrough.

Two-thirds of India’s 1.4 billion people draw their livelihood from agriculture, accounting for nearly a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product.

But for the past few decades, farm incomes have remained largely stagnant and the sector is in dire need of investment and modernisation.

Thousands of Indian farmers die by suicide every year because of poverty, debt and crops affected by ever-more erratic weather patterns caused by climate change.

Farmers have political influence due to their sheer numbers, and the renewed protests come ahead of national elections likely to begin in April.