New Delhi, November 26:
Thousands of farmers, some armed with sticks and swords, fling barricades into a river, threw bricks at cops and physically pushed vehicles as they were stopped by Haryana on their way to a protest march in Delhi. After a two-hour clash on a bridge in which teargas and water cannons were used, the farmers managed to cross the border into Haryana. Haryana, ruled by the BJP, has been using heavy force to try and block farmers making their way from Punjab towards the capital in tractors and on foot for their two-day “Delhi Chalo” protest march against new farm laws that they fear will reduce their earnings and give more power to large retailers. Amid massive protests, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar appealed to the farmers to suspend their agitation, and invited them for talks on December 3. “The government is committed to the welfare of farmers and we are ready for talks. Whether it’s about minimum support price or infrastructure, we are ready for discussion,” he said.
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In a dramatic confrontation on a narrow bridge near the border between Congress-ruled Punjab and Haryana, farmers were seen toppling barricades into a river and throwing bricks and stones as they clashed with the police. The protesters refused to move back from the bridge that would take them towards Haryana on their way to the capital.
As barricades put up over the last 48 hours were plunged into the river, the protesters raised their fists in triumph, raising flags and slogans, refusing to leave the bridge. The police again used teargas shells. The farmers pushed ahead in tractors, trying to force police vans to retreat.
To stop the farmers’ progress, the Haryana police parked a truck in the middle of the bridge but that only impelled protesters to push the heavy vehicle to try and clear their path. A large police contingent, who had filled the bridge in the morning, were pushed to its edge. The farmers were finally able to clear the bridge and cross the Haryana border around noon, two hours after they set off this morning.
Haryana continued its crackdown as activist Yogendra Yadav and around 50 farmers were detained at Gurgaon as they attempted to cross into Delhi. “They are accusing me of disrupting peace and violating Covid safety rules. They are arresting me…It is not a crime to be a farmer. We will continue our agitation,” Mr Yadav told reporters as he was led away.
Farmers from six states – Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Kerala and Punjab – have been planning the protests for two months for today – when the country celebrates Constitution Day – against the centre’s new farm laws aimed at bringing reforms by doing away with middlemen and improving farmers’ earnings by allowing them to sell their produce in the commercial market, anywhere in the country.
Farmers and opposition parties want the three laws repealed, saying these could lead to the government stopping the tradition of buying grain at guaranteed prices, a move that would disrupt a system that has so far ensured timely payments to farmers. 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 Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan) has claimed that over two lakh farmers will participate in the march. The farmers have come prepared for the long haul with ration, vegetables, wood, quilts and blankets for the march. 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.”
Delhi metro services have been 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.
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 was arrested.
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.