- By Nikhila Henry in Delhi and Arvind Chhabra in Haryana
- BBC news
Police in northern India have fired tear gas to prevent thousands of protesting farmers demanding minimum crop prices from marching to Delhi.
The capital is surrounded on three sides by barbed wire, cement blocks and fencing to keep protests at bay.
The government fears a repeat of 2020 – dozens of people were killed in a year-long protest that only ended after ministers agreed to repeal controversial farm laws.
But just over two years later, farmers say other demands have not been met.
India’s farmers are an influential voting bloc and analysts say Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government will do everything it can to avoid alienating them. His Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seeking a third consecutive term in this year’s general elections.
Photos on Tuesday showed thick clouds of tear gas being used to disperse protesters near the city of Ambala, about 200 kilometers north of the capital.
Police, like Monday, also fired tear gas at the Shambhu border between the states of Haryana and Punjab. Drones continuously flew over the crowd, dropping tear gas on people below.
“It literally rained tear gas canisters all day,” said a BBC Punjabi reporter who was present. There were some injuries among the crowd, mainly people hit by plastic bullets fired by police.
In response, some protesters pelted the police with stones. Farmers used wet bags and clothing to protect themselves from the tear gas canisters.
Farmers, most of whom are from Punjab, say they want to cross Haryana peacefully to reach Delhi, but they are not allowed to do so. Clashes between police and protesters have also been reported at the Shambhu border and the situation remains tense.
In 2020, protesting farmers hid for months and blocked national highways connecting the capital with neighboring states. The move was seen as one of the biggest challenges facing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
Traffic jams and disruptions were reported across Delhi on Tuesday as authorities blocked roads and diverted traffic.
Police have also banned large gatherings in the city, including at border points between the capital and neighboring states of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, where farmers were expected to reach the capital.
In Haryana, the BJP-led state government has suspended internet services in seven districts till Tuesday. Two rounds of talks between farmers’ union leaders and federal ministers have so far failed to break the deadlock.
Farmers are asking for guaranteed floor prices – also known as minimum support price or MSP – that will allow them to sell most of their produce in government-controlled wholesale markets, or mandis. They also demand that the government fulfill its promise to double farmers’ incomes.
On Monday, federal ministers held a six-hour meeting with farmer union leaders. The two sides have reportedly reached an agreement on some of the demands, including the withdrawal of cases registered against demonstrators during the 2020 protests.
But there was no consensus on the MSP. In 2021, after the farm laws were repealed, the government had said it would set up a panel to find ways to ensure support prices for all agricultural products. But the committee is yet to submit its report.
More than 200 farmer unions are participating in the march. “We will proceed peacefully and our aim is that the government listens to our demands,” Sarvan Singh Pandher, general secretary of the Punjab Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, told news agency ANI.
Farmers and unions have also announced a rural strike on February 16, during which no agricultural activities will take place. Shops, markets and offices in all villages will be closed, while farmers will block major roads across the country.