Police break up farmers' march on Delhi over market reforms

Slideshow ( 2 images )

MUMBAI (Reuters) - Indian police on Thursday used water cannons and tear gas shells to disperse thousands of farmers marching towards New Delhi in a protest against legislation they fear would end price support for their produce, officials said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has defended the bills enacted in September as a way to rid the vast agriculture sector of antiquated procurement procedures and to allow farmers to sell to institutional buyers and big international retailers.

But farm groups in the northern state of Punjab said the government was trying to end a decades-old policy of providing them with an assured minimum price for producing staples, such as wheat and rice, and turning India into a food surplus nation.

Dozens of farmers’ leaders were detained and authorities from the states of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, which are governed by Modi’s ruling group, set up blockades on highways to stop farmers travelling on tractor-trolleys from reaching New Delhi, officials representing police and farmers’ associations said in televised comments.

Some farmers carried sticks and even swords, television footage showed.

Farmers are an influential voting bloc across the Indian heartland.

Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Barbara Lewis