Indian farmers launch nationwide shutdown against new regulations
Published: Dec 08, 2020 05:38 PM

Commuters wait for train services to resume after the suburban train was halted by Leftist supporters at Jadavpur railway station in Kolkata, India on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

Indian farmers who have been blockading New Delhi on Tuesday launched a one-day, nationwide general strike to push their demands for the government to repeal reform laws opening up trade in agricultural produce.

Tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of the capital since November 27 in protest at the laws in what has become one of the biggest challenges to the Hindu nationalist government since it won a second landslide election in 2019.

Farmers vowed to block major roads and rail lines across the country for several hours and have been given support by railway workers, truck drivers, teachers and other unions. 

Authorities put thousands of extra police on the streets in New Delhi and boosted security in the rest of the country in a bid to head off any trouble.

Five rounds of talks have failed to narrow the differences between farmers and ministers. The growing numbers of farmers and their supporters camped outside the capital say they will not go home until the laws are repealed.

The laws will allow farmers to sell their produce on the open market - including to supermarket chains - instead of being forced to sell through state-run organizations that guarantee a minimum price.

The farmers say the industry will be taken over by major firms who will force prices down. The government insists the changes are necessary to give agriculture - still the backbone of the Indian economy - a long-term future.

The protests have already caused price rises for fruit and vegetables in Delhi because supplies are restricted.

Rakesh Tikait, a protest leader, said that people should not travel during the shutdown and all stores should close. 

The main opposition Congress party and about 15 other political groupings are backing the protest but the government has accused them of opportunism, rejecting measures that they had called for when in power.