Police block roads in New Delhi to stop protesting farmers from ‘disrupting’ budget day

NEW DELHI (Reuters): To prevent protesting farmers from entering the capital city, Indian police and paramilitary dug on Monday ditches and spread razor wire across main roads.

The protocols have been set in place as the finance minister is prepared to deliver the government’s annual budget in parliament.

Internet and messaging services were blocked in several neighbourhoods where protests turned violent last week and security was stepped up around parliament and other important government offices in the central district.

“The government has increased security to avoid any clash or violence when parliament is in session,” said a senior official who didn’t wish to be named in line with official policy. “The idea is to keep everyone safe and avoid any escalation in tensions.”

A farmers’ procession turned violent on January 26 when India celebrated its Republic Day with a military parade as some protesters broke away from a rally of tractors to storm into the historic Red Fort complex after breaking through barricades and clashing with police.

On Friday, authorities used tear gas and batons to break up clashes at one of the protest sites near the city. In the last few days, more farmers have arrived along with their tractors to join their protesting colleagues at the three major protest sites near New Delhi.

“The country was saddened by the insult to the Tricolor (Indian flag) on the 26th of January in Delhi,” Modi said in a radio address on Sunday, making his first public comments on last week’s violence.

“The government is committed to modernising agriculture and is also taking many steps in that direction.”

The farmers want the government to withdraw three new farms – introduced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in September – that they say will hurt their livelihoods and benefit large private produce buyers.

The government says the reforms will open up new opportunities for farmers and it has invited farmer leaders for fresh talks to end the deadlock.

Although Modi remains India’s most popular politician, his standing in the rural areas, where most Indians live, could be damaged by his handling of the farmers’ two-month-old agitation.