Thousands of farmers heading to Delhi in tractors and on foot for a protest have braced for a confrontation with security personnel posted by BJP-ruled Haryana, which has put up barricades to block them. Tear gas and water cannons were used on protesters this morning. Farmers from six states – Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Kerala and Punjab – are massing for a two-day “Delhi Chalo” protest march against new farm laws that they fear will take away their bargaining power and allow large retailers to have more control over prices. The Delhi government has refused to allow any rally in the city, citing the coronavirus outbreak. Delhi’s borders at Gurugram and Faridabad have been sealed and metro services have been affected.
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Delhi metro services will be restricted and trains to neighbouring cities will be suspended today till 2 pm to avoid crowding, the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation tweeted. Metros heading to Delhi would be stopped at various stations before state borders because of the rally, said officials.
Haryana has sealed borders with Punjab today and tomorrow after orders from Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. Barricades, water cannons and riot vehicles are on standby on roads from Punjab. Prohibitory orders banning large gatherings have been imposed in the state. Haryana has also suspended bus service to and from Punjab for two days and diverted all traffic from the blocked roads.
Last night, Haryana police used water cannons at least twice, in the freezing cold, to disperse protesting farmers and stop them from going to Delhi. But that failed to stop the protesters, who marched on, stopping at Karnal and Sonipat for the night “The farmers are protesting against all three laws by the centre. Instead of taking this bill back, the farmers are being stopped from protesting peacefully. Water cannons are being used on them. Such kind of injustice on farmers is not fair. Peaceful protest is their constitutional right,” Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted this morning. .
Many farmers from Punjab camped at the Haryana border and threatened a sit-in protest wherever they were stopped. The Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan) has claimed that over two lakh farmers associated with it will enter Haryana.
The farmers have brought ration, vegetables, wood and other essentials for the march. In view of the cold weather, they have also stocked quilts, blankets and covered their trolleys with tarpaulin. Harmeet Singh Kadian, a member of the Bhartiya Kisan Union, said, “Almost 600 to 700 tractor trolleys are ready to march to Delhi for protest against new farm laws. We have sufficient food material with us for six months. Each tractor-trolley is carrying around 22 people.”
A convoy of farmers and anti-farm bill protestors travelling from Madhya Pradesh to Delhi, led by activist Medha Patkar, was stopped near Agra by the Uttar Pradesh authorities. Medha Patkar has been arrested.
In a series of tweets, Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal hit out at recently estranged ally BJP. “By stopping Punjabi farmers from peacefully exercising democratic rights, centre is repeating 1980 when the Akalis were stopped from entering Delhi to protest,” his post read. The Prime Minister’s Office, he said, must intervene “to ensure that this is stopped immediately and the Annadatas are not harassed and humiliated”.
The protests come weeks after the centre cleared three laws meant to bring reforms and improve farmers’ earnings by allowing them to sell their produce in the commercial market, anywhere in the country.
Farmers and opposition parties, however, want the laws repealed, saying these could lead to the government stopping buying grain at guaranteed prices, a move that would disrupt wholesale markets which have so far ensured fair and timely payments to farmers.
The centre has called the farmers for a second round of negotiations on December 3. The first round last month failed as both the Agriculture Minister and his deputy did not show up. The farmers then decided to make their point with the big protest march involving around 500 farmer organisations.