Police use tear gas, water cannons and batons on thousands of farmers before allowing them to enter capital New Delhi for a planned protest against new laws seen as "pro-corporate".

Protesting farmers shout slogans and face security officers at the border between New Delhi and Haryana states, on November 27, 2020.
Protesting farmers shout slogans and face security officers at the border between New Delhi and Haryana states, on November 27, 2020. (AP)

Thousands of angry Indian farmers have entered New Delhi, after facing tear gas and baton charges from police, to protest new laws they fear will give more power to corporations and reduce their earnings.

Heading toward New Delhi on Friday, the farmers used tractors to clear walls of concrete, shipping containers, and parked trucks set up by police on highways leading to the capital.

The farmers began their march to New Delhi on Thursday to mount pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government to abolish the controversial laws but were stopped by large numbers of security personnel in riot gear on the boundary between New Delhi and Haryana state. 

They resumed their march early on Friday, unfazed by overnight rain and chilly winter temperatures.

"We are fighting for our rights. We won't rest until we reach the capital and force the government to abolish these black laws," said Majhinder Singh Dhaliwal, a leader.

Police fired tear gas at some places on the outskirts of Delhi and used water cannons at entry points to stop people coming into the city centre from the big farming state of Punjab. 

They were later allowed to rally in New Delhi. 

"Although the police have tried to stop us with force, barricades, and water cannons, we've decided to stay the course to make sure the government listens to the voice of millions of farmers," said protesting farmer Sukrampal Dhayana.

Why're farmers protesting over?

For the last two months, farmer unions unwilling to accept new legislation have camped on highways in Punjab and Haryana states.

They say the laws, which were approved by Parliament in September, could cause the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices and result in their being exploited by corporations that would buy their crops at cheap prices.

Many farmer organisations say it would leave small growers with little bargaining power. 

They also say they fear the government will eventually withdraw price support for wheat and rice.

Opposition parties and some Modi allies have called the laws anti-farmer and pro-corporation.

The government has said the laws are aimed at reforming India's farming sector by giving farmers the freedom to market their produce and boosting agricultural growth through private investment. 

They also said there is no plan to eliminate the wholesale markets.

Trains suspended

In a bid to stop the protesters from riding commuter trains into the capital, the Delhi Metro said on Twitter that some services were suspended. 

Traffic slowed to a crawl as vehicles were checked along state boundaries, leading to huge jams on some highways.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh urged the federal government to defuse the tension at the border and initiate talks with leaders of the farmers.

“The voice of farmers cannot be muzzled indefinitely,” Singh wrote on Twitter.

Standoff continues

Negotiations between the leaders of farmer unions and the government to defuse the standoff have been unsuccessful.

Farmers make up a powerful voting block across India and some leaders urged the Modi government not to crush the protests with an iron hand.

Senior cabinet ministers should talk to farmers' organisations to understand their apprehensions over the new rules passed by the government, the leaders of the United Farmers Forum said in a letter to Modi.

Farmers say they will continue to protest until the government rolls back the laws.

Source: AP