New Delhi: Thousands of Indian farmers are pressing on with protests in and around the national capital against agricultural legislation they say could be exploited by the private sector to buy their crops at low prices.
After a day of clashes with police who used tear gas, water cannon and baton charges to push them back, the farmers were allowed to enter New Delhi late on Friday.
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar invited the agitating farmers for talks.
“We have called all the farmers’ organisations on December 3 and we have talked before and are still ready for talks,” Tomar said.
There was no immediate response from the leaders of the protests. The protesters said they would not return to their homes until their demands were met.
“They initially wanted to go to the centre of the capital city New Delhi to make the opposition heard but they say if they are not allowed to go to the centre. They will remain on national highways, causing this great interruption to traffic until their demands are met,” Al Jazeera’s Elizabeth Puranam, reporting from Singhu crossing, said.
“It is a bit peaceful today but there is a large police and paramilitary presence monitoring the protest. The agriculture minister reiterated the government point of view that the laws will benefit farmers. He is pleading with them to stop protests.”
For the last two months, farmer unions have rejected the laws, which were passed in September, and have camped out on highways in Punjab and Haryana states.
They say the measure could cause the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices and result in their exploitation by corporations that would buy their crops cheaply.
The government says the laws are needed to reform agriculture by giving farmers the freedom to market their produce and boost production through private investment.
“We are fighting for our rights. We won’t rest until we reach the capital and force the government to abolish these black laws,” said Majhinder Singh Dhaliwal, a farmer leader.
Opposition parties and some Modi allies have called the laws “anti-farmer” and “pro-corporation”.
Farmers have long been seen as the heart and soul of India, where agriculture supports more than half of the country’s 1.3 billion people.
But farmers have also seen their economic clout diminish over the last 30 years. Once accounting for a third of India’s gross domestic product, they now produce only 15 percent of the country’s $2.9 trillion economy.
Farmers often complain of being ignored and hold frequent protests to demand better crop prices, more loan waivers and irrigation systems to guarantee water supplies during dry spells. AP