Delhi: Police fire water cannon at protesters of land bill

  • AFP, New Delhi
  • Updated: Mar 16, 2015 20:27 IST

The police fired water cannon and baton-charged demonstrators at a protest near parliament Monday against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's land reforms, which opponents say will harm millions of farmers.

Hundreds of protesters, led by the opposition Congress party, tried to break through barricades erected to stop them marching on parliament over the controversial land bill, one of Modi's key reforms.

"It is anti-farmer and it also endangers the food security of the country," senior Congress party spokesman Anand Sharma told TV channels.

"This government has opened the door to acquire farmers' land, multi-crop land for the private sector, which is unacceptable."

Police armed with long wooden sticks hosed and beat back protesters who had jumped over barricades.

A police officer on the spot said no injuries had been reported during the operation to thwart around 500 protesters around the barricades.

Several thousand opposition activists had descended earlier on a landmark protest site in Delhi, carrying party flags and wearing T-shirts bearing slogans against the proposed law.

Several senior Congress party leaders addressed the crowd, mostly drawn from the neighbouring states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana.

Amanatullah Khan, a Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh, said the party would not back down until the amendment was dropped.

"We are demanding the UPA land law should not be amended as it looked after the interests of farmers," said Khan, referring to the last Congress-led government.

He said police used indiscriminate force to stop their parliament march but vowed to continue with protests, as scores of activists voluntarily turned up at the police station for arrest.

The draft law would make it easier to acquire land for crucial infrastructure projects as part of Modi's pledges to revive India's economy after storming to power at elections last May.

The bill overhauls legislation passed by the previous left-leaning government. Modi's supporters say the current law has held up infrastructure projects worth billions of dollars.

The new legislation last week passed the Lok Sabha, where Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party holds a majority, after opposition lawmakers stormed out during voting. It still needs upper house approval.

The bill exempts projects for defence, housing and power along with industrial corridors from the law's current provisions -- under which 80 percent of affected landowners must agree to a sale and tenant farmers must be compensated at up to four times the market price.

Opponents say it favours businesses too heavily at the expense of farmers, millions of whom are mired in poverty.

The existing law was a key initiative of the Congress party's decade in power.

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