Farmers in India stepped up their agitation against three farm laws of the federal government by starting a 24-hour relay hunger strike.
The Prime Minister Narendra Modi is urging the farmers to engage in further talks to end a deadlock which has led to thousands camping on the outskirts of New Delhi for more than three weeks.
The protests have blocked roads connecting the national capital with neighbouring states of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, hitting public transport and the supply of fruit and vegetables.
“We are going on a 24-hour relay hunger strike, skipping meals, to press our demands of repealing three agricultural laws,” Yogendra Yadav, a prominent protest leader, said.
Leaders called on their supporters to skip one meal on December 23, in solidarity with the protests against new laws, approved by parliament in September without much debate, which farmers fear could pave the way for ending state procurement of crops, while helping big retail buyers.
At least 30 protesters have died in recent weeks, mainly due to the cold as they were sleeping in the open with temperatures falling to 4 degree Celsius, farmer leaders said.
Farmers leaders also called upon their supporters to boycott Modi’s monthly radio address.
“People should bang their utensils at home on Sunday when Modi speaks up on radio,” Jagjit Singh Dallewal, president of the Bharti Kisan Union, said.
Farmers protests so far:
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration in September introduced the farm bills that the government says will unshackle farmers from having to sell their produce only at regulated wholesale markets and make contract farming easier.
Modi defended the laws saying these would help increase farmers income as it would encourage more private investments in cold-stores, procurement and distribution.
Farmers insist that the new laws will leave them at the mercy of big corporations.
Six rounds of talks between government ministers and farmers’ union leaders have failed to resolve the situation.
The government has said while the laws can be amended, it is against repealing the bills. Farmers last week rejected a government’s proposal to amend the legislation.
Petitioners had approached the Supreme Court to complain that the protests had hampered drivers and making it difficult for people to access emergency medical services.
The court declined calls to ban the and asked the government and unions to help form a committee of experts to mediate between them.
“We make it clear that we recognise the fundamental right to protest against a law. There is no question of balancing or curtailing it. But it should not damage anyone’s life or property,” Chief Justice S. A. Bobde said.
“We are of the view at this stage that the farmers’ protest should be allowed to continue without impediment and without any breach of peace either by the protesters or the police,” Bobde added.
India’s vast agriculture sector, which makes up nearly 15% of the country’s economy employs about half of its 1.3 billion people.