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Indian farmers resume Delhi protest push after talks fail

By AFP - Feb 22,2024 - Last updated at Feb 22,2024

Swaran Singh Pandher (C seated), leader of a nationwide farmers’ association addresses a press conference amid a during a protest demanding minimum crop prices, near the Haryana-Punjab state border in Shambhu at Patiala district about 200 kilometres north of the capital on Wednesday (AFP photo)

PATIALA, India — Thousands of Indian farmers riding tractors prepared to resume their push towards New Delhi on Wednesday after failing to reach a deal with the government on their demands for higher crop prices.

The protest hopes to successfully replicate the yearlong 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 have stared down efforts to disperse them with tear gas barrages and have vowed to push through the 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.”

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 to Delhi last week to await the outcome of negotiations between government ministers and unions.

But several rounds of talks have failed to reach a breakthrough.

Farm leaer Jagjit Singh Dallewal told the Press Trust of India news agency Monday night that the latest government proposal — to expand price guarantees to some but not all crops — was “not in the interest of farmers”.

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

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.

A campaign against agricultural reform laws in November 2020 saw tens of thousands of farmers besiege roads into Delhi for more than a year.

The protest forced a rare backdown from Modi’s government when it suspended the laws a year later.

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