Northern Punjab state orders police to crack down on farmers and sympathisers vandalising telecommunication masts of companies that they believe have profited from Modi government's controversial farm laws.

Farmers burn posters of Reliance Jio telecommunications company as they protest against the recent farm laws, on the outskirts of Amritsar city, India on December 28, 2020.
Farmers burn posters of Reliance Jio telecommunications company as they protest against the recent farm laws, on the outskirts of Amritsar city, India on December 28, 2020. (AFP)

India's major grain-growing state of Punjab has asked police to crack down on farmers and sympathisers vandalising hundreds of telecommunication masts as they intensify their weeks-long protests against farm deregulation.

Protesters have attacked more than 1,500 masts of companies such as oil-to-groceries conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd that they believe have profited from the farm laws at their expense.

The office of Punjab's chief minister said in a statement on Monday that more than 1,500 communication masts had been damaged or their power supply cut off in the past few days.

The "use of violence could alienate the protesters from the masses, which would be detrimental to the interests of the farming community", minister Amarinder Singh said in the statement.

A source close to Reliance's telecom unit, Jio, said that more than 1,400 of its 9,000-plus masts there had been hit, with power supply and fibre cut by unidentified people.

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Farmer union reject accusations

Some bundles of Jio's fibre were burnt at one location, the source said, seeking anonymity. 

Jio did not respond to a request for a comment.

Representatives of two of the more than two dozen farmer unions protesting against the laws rejected the allegations when contacted by Reuters news agency. 

They asked to remain unidentified pending a formal statement from all of the unions.

Protesters have also blockaded one of Punjab's biggest cooking oil depots owned by Adani subsidiary Fortune in the Punjab city of Amritsar.

Davinder Singh, a farmer who took part in a protest in Amritsar on Monday, told AFP news agency the boycott calls were being increasingly followed.

"We are with our farmer brothers who are protesting at the Delhi borders. We appealed to the people to boycott Jio and Adani.

"People have heard us. Many people have cut their Jio connections," he said.

Controversial laws

Tens of thousands of farmers are camping out on highways near New Delhi demanding a repeal of the new laws they fear will lead to corporate dominance of the farm sector and erode their incomes.

Farmers, who received huge public subsidies, have demanded that the laws be repealed and minimum prices for key produce be guaranteed.

The federal government says the laws will increase farmers' income as it links potential bulk buyers such as Reliance, WalMart Inc, and Adani Enterprises Ltd directly with farmers, bypassing wholesale markets, and commission agents.

A new round of talks between union leaders and the government is to be held Wednesday. But protesters have vowed to step up their action if there is no breakthrough.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies