The farmers protesting on the outskirts of Delhi against the centre’s new agricultural laws have called a nationwide shutdown on Tuesday, saying they will block all roads to the capital, amid a stand-off with the government.
The farmers said they will also occupy all highway toll gates across the country and not allow the government to collect tolls as part of the December 8 strike. “More people will join our movement,” Harinder Singh Lakhowal, a leader of one of the protesting groups, told a news conference.
The farmer groups said that in their talks with the government they have asked for the withdrawal of the three laws that they say will leave them at the mercy of large corporations and override safeguards against being cheated.
Announcing the escalation of their protest, the farmers, who faced a brutal police crackdown in Haryana last week before being allowed to hold a peaceful demonstration on the outer fringes of Delhi, said they will take to burning effigies on Saturday.
“We see the government agreeing to our demands on Minimum Support Price, electricity and penalties for stubble burning but we won’t stop till the laws are repealed,” Satnam Singh Ajnala, President of the Jamhoori Kisan Sabha, Punjab, told NDTV.
Earlier on Thursday, the fourth round of talks between the government and around 40 farmers’ unions failed to make headway, but a cabinet minister said they would continue discussions on Saturday.
In the country’s biggest farm unrest in years, tens of thousands of growers are protesting on the outskirts of Delhi against the laws seeking to rid the sector of antiquated procurement procedures and allow farmers to sell to institutional buyers and big international retailers.
The farmers, who form a powerful political constituency, fear the laws passed in September could see the government stop buying grains at guaranteed prices, leaving them at the mercy of private buyers.
Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said Thursday’s talks, which lasted seven hours, were cordial and the government was sympathetic.
“We addressed the issues raised by them and we are going to meet again on the 5th,” Mr Tomar told reporters.
He added the government would continue the guaranteed price system, but farm leaders have previously sought a written assurance.
“The government did propose amendments to the laws but farmers unions still insisted on taking these laws back,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, a leader of the farmers’ group All India Kisan Sangarsh Coordination Committee.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has defended the new laws and said they only give an option to farmers to sell to private buyers.
(With inputs from agencies)