Indian police agree to allow protesting farmers into capital

Farmers are seen with their trucks parked on a national highway as they protest against the newly passed farm bills at Singhu border near Delhi, India, on Nov. 27, 2020. (REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis)
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Updated 28 November 2020

Indian police agree to allow protesting farmers into capital

  • The farmers are protesting new agricultural laws that they fear will reduce their earnings in favor of corporations

NEW DELHI: Thousands of angry Indian farmers protesting new agricultural laws were allowed to enter the capital late Friday after they clashed with police who had blocked them at the outskirts of New Delhi.
The farmers, who fear new legislation will reduce their earnings and give more power to corporations, will be escorted to a protest site in New Delhi, police said in a statement. It was not immediately clear where the protests would be held.
For the last two months, farmer unions have rejected the laws, which were passed in September, and have camped on highways in Punjab and Haryana states. They say the measure could cause the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices and result in their being exploited by corporations that would buy their crops at cheap prices.
The government says the laws are needed to reform agriculture by giving farmers the freedom to market their produce and boosting production through private investment.
The farmers began their march to the capital on Thursday to pressure Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to abolish the laws, but were stopped by large numbers of security personnel in riot gear on the boundary between New Delhi and Haryana state.
They resumed their march early Friday, unfazed by overnight rain and chilly winter temperatures.
Heading toward New Delhi on tractors and cars, the farmers were again blocked by police at the capital’s fringes. This led to clashes with police, who used tear gas, water cannons and baton charges to push them back.
In response, farmers used tractors to clear walls of concrete, shipping containers and parked trucks set up by police on roads leading to the capital.
Some protesters also threw stones at officers and waved the flags of farmer unions. There were no immediate reports of injuries.
“We are fighting for our rights. We won’t rest until we reach the capital and force the government to abolish these black laws,” said Majhinder Singh Dhaliwal, a farmer leader.
Earlier, in a bid to stop the protesters from riding commuter trains into the capital, the Delhi Metro suspended some services. Traffic slowed to a crawl as vehicles were checked along state boundaries, leading to huge jams on some highways.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh urged the federal government to initiate talks with protest leaders. Many of the farmers are from Punjab, one of the largest agricultural states in India.
“The voice of farmers cannot be muzzled indefinitely,” Singh wrote on Twitter.
Negotiations between the leaders of farmer unions and the government to defuse the standoff have been unsuccessful. Farmers say they will continue to protest until the government rolls back the laws.
Opposition parties and some Modi allies have called the laws anti-farmer and pro-corporation.
Farmers have long been seen as the heart and soul of India, where agriculture supports more than half of the country’s 1.3 billion people. But farmers have also seen their economic clout diminish over the last three decades. Once accounting for a third of India’s gross domestic product, they now produce only 15% of the country’s $2.9 trillion economy.
Farmers often complain of being ignored and hold frequent protests to demand better crop prices, more loan waivers and irrigation systems to guarantee water during dry spells.


Dutch government collapses over benefits scandal

Updated 15 January 2021

Dutch government collapses over benefits scandal

  • Parents being targeted for investigation because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands
  • The row threatens to leave the Netherlands without a government in the midst of a surge in cases of a new Covid-19 variant

THE HAGUE: Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government resigned on Friday over a child benefits scandal, media reported, threatening political turmoil as the country battles the coronavirus pandemic.
Thousands of parents were wrongly accused by Dutch authorities of fraudulently claiming child allowance, with many of them forced to pay back large amounts of money and ending up in financial ruin.
The fact that some parents were targeted for investigation by tax officials because they had dual nationality also underscored long-standing criticisms of systemic racism in the Netherlands.
Dutch media said Rutte was due to give a statement at 1315 GMT about the resignation of his four-party coalition cabinet, which comes just two months before the Netherlands is due to hold a general election on March 17.
A hard-hitting parliamentary investigation in December said civil servants cut off benefits to thousands of families wrongly accused of fraud between 2013 and 2019.
The row threatens to leave the Netherlands without a government in the midst of a surge in cases of a new Covid-19 variant that first emerged in Britain.
Rutte had opposed the cabinet’s resignation, saying the country needs leadership during the pandemic.
He had however said that if it resigned he could be authorized to lead a caretaker government until elections — in which polls say his Freedom and Democracy Party would likely come first.
Other parties in the coalition had pushed for the government to take responsibility for the scandal, which Dutch media said some 26,000 people had been affected.
They could have also faced a confidence vote in parliament next week.
Pressure mounted on the government after opposition Labour party chief Lodewijk Asscher, who was social affairs minister in Rutte’s previous cabinet, resigned on Thursday over the scandal.
Victims also lodged a legal complaint Tuesday against three serving ministers and two former ministers including Asscher.
Many were required to pay back benefits totalling tens of thousands of euros (dollars).
Tax officials were also revealed to have carried out “racial profiling” of 11,00 people based on their dual nationality, including some of those hit by the false benefit fraud accusations.
The Dutch government announced at least 30,000 euros in compensation for each parent who was wrongly accused but it has not been enough to silence the growing clamour over the scandal.
Rutte has led three coalition governments since 2010, most recently winning elections in 2017 despite strong opposition from far-right leader Geert Wilders.
Polls say he is likely to win a fourth term in the next election, with public opinion still largely backing his handling of the coronavirus crisis.