Farmers from northern India went on strike on Wednesday to protest against new land laws drafted three years ago by a new rightwing government.
The measures, including a property tax on farmers, have been a thorn in the side of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) ahead of a general election next year.
Infrastructure work on some large road and rail projects in northern parts of the country were cancelled in protest at the land law, regional governments said. They said it cost them tens of millions of dollars a year and prevented them from borrowing to build highways, railways and power plants.
Many farmers in politically important states such as Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are unhappy about the new laws and the loss of land to developers to boost industrial and commercial zones.
“We are not only borrowing from banks but are also looking at private money. If land is not allotted under the new law then they will not provide us land and our income will also go down,” said Pawan Kumar, a farmer from Haridwar in western Uttar Pradesh.
“Farmers from other states are also against the new land law and are going on strike,” he said.
An opposition Congress party lawmaker from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh said at least 120,000 farmers had left the state in less than a month because of the new laws.
On Tuesday, Rahul Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress party said over five million farmers had returned their land or demanded compensation by stamp duty and other levies.
Gandhi called on the government to roll back the new land laws before elections.
In the financial capital of Mumbai, construction workers stopped work on a number of projects. On roads and flyovers, advertisements marking the completion of projects were hidden behind bushes and some billboards had black bars over them.
“All work has been stopped until the farmers issue demands are met. Workers must be paid dues, the contractors have to accept it,” said a member of a construction workers’ union in Mumbai.
A spokesman for the railway company in Madhya Pradesh said the work suspended on roads and railways had cost it billions of rupees in revenue.
The BJP is particularly concerned about defeats in key states such as Uttar Pradesh, where it has the largest presence in parliament, and the coastal state of Tamil Nadu. The state polls are due in April.
In the farming state of Punjab, farmers organised rallies and blocked train tracks for several hours, protesting against the land law. Farmers protested in Assam, West Bengal and Punjab.