New Delhi (AFP) – Thousands of farmers in and around the Indian capital on Saturday continued to protest against agricultural legislation that they said could destroy crop prices, as the government sought talks with their leaders.
Some protesters burned an effigy of Prime Minister Modi and chanted “Down, Modi” as they rallied on New Delhi’s border with Haryana state.
Protesting farmers were allowed into New Delhi late Friday after a day of clashes with police who used tear gas, water cannons and batons to bring them back.
Television footage showed some of them had moved to the capital, while thousands remained on the outskirts of the city. The Press Trust of India news agency said that more protesters were heading to New Delhi from the northern state of Punjab.
Many farmers have camped on highways in Punjab and Haryana states for the past two months to protest the passage of the legislation. They say the laws could push the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices and lead to companies that might buy their crops cheaply. They want the laws to be abolished.
The government says the legislation brings much-needed agrarian reform that will allow farmers the freedom to market their products and boost production through private investment.
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said he invited farmers’ representatives to hold talks on December 3rd.
“We have spoken before and we are still ready for talks,” Tomar said late on Friday.
There was no immediate response from the farmers. Protesters said they would not return to their homes until their demands were met.
We fight for our rights. “We will not rest until we reach the capital and force the government to repeal these black laws,” said Majinder Singh Dalwal, one of the leaders.
Opposition parties and some of Modi’s allies have described the laws as anti-farmers and pro-business.
Farmers have long been seen as the heart and soul of India, with agriculture supporting more than half of the country’s population of 1.3 billion people. But farmers have also seen their economic influence diminish over the past three decades. Once they account for a third of India’s GDP, they now only produce 15% of the GDP, which is estimated to be worth $ 2.9 trillion annually.
Farmers often complain of neglect and stage frequent protests to demand better crop prices, more loan waivers and irrigation systems to ensure water during droughts.