Thousands of protesting farmers scuffled with police during a march against new laws, which they fear will benefit corporations.
Police in India have fired several rounds of tear gas and used water cannon on thousands of farmers on the outskirts of the capital New Delhi to prevent the protest march from entering the city centre.
Protesting Indian farmers scuffled with police on Friday during a march to the capital, against new laws, which will make it easier for farmers to sell their produce directly to private buyers and enter into a contract with private companies.
But farmers demand the bills, passed by India’s parliament in September, be scrapped fearing the laws will leave them vulnerable to big corporates.
Television footage showed plumes of smoke and some people throwing stones at police as thousands pressed against barricades, waving flags and sticks. Some rode tractors near the barriers.
“Although the police have tried to stop us with force, barricades and water cannons, we’ve decided to stay the course to make sure the government listens to the voice of millions of farmers,” said protesting farmer Sukrampal Dhayana.
Suburban train services into New Delhi were suspended, Delhi Metro said in a post on Twitter, in a bid to stop the protesters from riding the trains.
The clashes come a day after police in New Delhi’s neighbouring state of Haryana, governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), used tear gas and water cannon to disperse the farmers who tried to march towards the capital.
The farmers, most of them from the northern state of Punjab, were able to break the police blockade and marched to the New Delhi border on Thursday, but they are not being allowed to cross into the capital.
Meanwhile, police in New Delhi has sought permission from the city government to use stadiums as temporary jails as it appears to thwart farmers from organising protests in the capital, the local PTI news agency reported.
Under the laws Modi called a watershed for agriculture, farmers are free to sell their produce anywhere, including to big corporate buyers, instead of at government-regulated wholesale markets where farmers are assured of a Minimum Support Price (MSP) – the price at which the government buys farm produce.
The law also allows farmers to enter into a contract with private companies in a step the government hopes will bring private sector investments in the sector that has struggled for years.
Many farmer organisations oppose the new law, saying it would leave small growers with little bargaining power. They also say they fear the government will eventually withdraw price support (MSP) for wheat and rice.
The government says there is no plan to eliminate the wholesale markets.
The new law was aimed at making the vast agriculture sector more efficient by freeing up farmers who want to sell directly to big retailers such as Walmart.
Critics, however, say the changes will end the purchase of grains at prices guaranteed by the government and leave farmers vulnerable to the market.