Farmers in India have blocked roads and railway tracks in a protest against new legislation that they say could pave the way for the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices, leaving them at the mercy of private buyers.
Large protests have been organised in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh – the main food-growing states in the country.
As part of a nationwide shutdown called by India’s leading farmers’ organisations, growers held demonstrations in many parts of the country and blocked highways leading to New Delhi using trucks, tractors and combine harvesters.
Opposition parties and trade unions across several Indian states, including Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Odisha and Karnataka, have voiced support for farmers as protests mount against the new laws passed earlier this week.
Authorities on Friday had to cancel several train services on some routes, as farmers started blocking highways and railway tracks.
Farmers’ bodies also organised protests in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat in western India.
Modi’s government has defended the bills – recently approved by parliament – as reform measures that will help rid India’s vast agriculture sector of antiquated laws and allow farmers to sell to institutional buyers and big retailers like Walmart.
“For decades, the Indian farmer was bound by various constraints and bullied by middlemen.
“The bills passed by Parliament liberate the farmers from such adversities,” he said in a Twitter post.
The government has also insisted that the new rules give farmers the option to sell their produce to private buyers but it would still buy staples such as rice and wheat at guaranteed prices.