New Delhi: Indian security forces fired tear gas on Tuesday to stop thousands of farmers demanding minimum crop prices from marching on the capital New Delhi after talks with the government failed.
Indian broadcasters showed thick clouds of tear gas fired to disperse protesters near Ambala, some 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of the capital, while senior Delhi police officer Ranjay Atrishya said "maximum numbers" of officers had been deployed.
Police sealed multiple entry points into New Delhi by erecting barriers of barbed wire, spikes and cement blocks. Large gatherings in the capital were banned and internet services were suspended in some districts of the neighbouring Haryana state.
The renewed protests come more than two years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi withdrew agriculture laws that had triggered the protests in which tens of thousands of farmers hunkered outside the capital through a harsh winter and a devastating COVID-19 surge.
Farmers, who began their march from northern Haryana and Punjab states, are asking for a guaranteed minimum support price for all farm produce. The government protects agricultural producers against any sharp fall in farm prices by announcing a minimum purchase price on certain essential crops at the beginning of the sowing season, taking into account the cost of production.
Farmers are also pressing the government to meet its promise to double their income.
The withdrawal of the agricultural laws in November 2021 was seen as a major retreat by the Modi government. The government at that time said it would set up a panel of farmers and government officials to find ways to ensure support prices for all farm produce. Multiple meetings since then have made no progress.
The march comes just months before national elections in India, in which Modi is widely expected to win a third term.
“We do not want to break any barricades. We want resolution of our issues through dialogue. But if they (the government) do nothing then what will we do? It is our compulsion,” Sarwan Singh Pandher, a leader of one of the farmer groups, told reporters Tuesday.
Pandher said talks between farm leaders and government ministers Monday failed to produce any consensus on their key demands and that the government had refused to make a decision.
Farmers form the most influential voting bloc in India and politicians have long considered it unwise to alienate them.
Some farmer and trade unions have also announced a countrywide rural strike on Friday.