Why are barricades being put around New Delhi?

Why are barricades being put around New Delhi?

Protesting Indian farmers have clashed with police for a second consecutive day as tens of thousands march towards the capital to demand guaranteed prices for their produce.

Police fired tear gas and used drones to drop tear gas canisters on the farmers, who tried to break through barricades made of cement blocks and barbed wires.

The latest round of farmer protests comes just months before the next general election in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to win his third term in office.

Still, his government wants to avoid any major confrontation with farmers who may not always vote as one bloc but still enjoy sizeable influence in the countryside where most Indians live.

Mr Modi’s administration also aims to prevent a repeat of a year-long protest in 2020-21 when growers forced the government to repeal laws designed to deregulate vast agricultural markets.

Why are farmers protesting?

Police fired tear gas at farmers at the Shambhu border crossing about 200 kilometres from New Delhi.(Reuters: Anushree Fadnavis)

Farm union leaders are seeking guarantees, backed by law, of more state support or a minimum purchase price for crops.

The government announces support prices for more than 20 crops each year to set a benchmark, but state agencies buy only rice and wheat at the support level, benefiting about just 7 per cent of farmers who raise those crops.

State agencies buy the two staples at government-fixed minimum support prices to build reserves to run the world’s biggest food welfare programme that entitles 800 million Indians to free rice and wheat.

This costs the government $US24.7 billion ($38 billion) annually — its largest outgoing subsidy.

In 2021, when Mr Modi’s administration repealed the farm laws after India’s longest farmers’ protest in years, the government said it would set up a panel of growers and government officials to find ways to ensure support prices for all produce.

Farmers accuse the government of going slow in fulfilling that promise.

Farm policy experts argue that buying all farm produce at state-set minimum support prices is economically unviable.

Do farmers have other demands?

Authorities are hoping to stop farmers from entering the Indian capital.(AP Photo: Manish Swarup)

They also want the government to honour a promise to double their incomes, complaining that costs of cultivation have jumped over the past few years while incomes have stagnated, making farming a loss-making enterprise.

In 2016, Mr Modi’s government pledged to step up investment in rural development, aiming to double farmer incomes by 2022.

Farmers also insist that the government ensure at a least 50 per cent profit over their overall cost of production.

They have further asked the government take action against a federal minister whose son was arrested during the 2021 protest on accusations he ran over and killed four protesting farmers.

How long can farmers sustain protests?

Farmers are prepared to take their time to get what they want.(Reuters: Anushree Fadnavis)

Farmers have time on their side and are in no hurry to head back to the countryside to gather their crops.

The new season wheat crop will be ready for harvest a month from now.

Since 2021, Indian farmers have become adept at reinforcing and maintaining protest tent camps along highways while still bringing their crops to harvest.

To placate protesters, the government might agree to provide them a bonus over and above the minimum support price for 2024.

Farmers try to protect themselves from tear gas near the border that divides northern Punjab and Haryana states.(AP: Rajesh Sachar)


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