By Cheena Kapoor and Ahmad Adil
NEW DELHI (AA) - As farmers in India continue on strike countrywide against several new agriculture laws, the chief minister of the capital New Delhi was put under house arrest, his party announced Tuesday.
Organizers of the strike launched by the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh -- a federation of 180 farmer organizations in India -- called for demonstrations to block major national highways, only allowing ambulances and other emergency vehicles.
On Monday morning, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which rules New Delhi, said Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had been placed under house arrest, a claim denied by the New Delhi police.
A day earlier, Kejriwal visited the outskirts of New Delhi, where thousands of farmers have been blocking key highways in protest for over a week now.
"No one has been permitted to leave or enter his residence," the party said in a statement.
Aam Aadmi Party leader Raghav Chadha says it was "absolutely shocking" that the chief minister was put under house arrest.
"Brute power of the state [is] used to prevent Delhi CM from lending support to the farmers' andolan [agitation] and BharatBand, apart from violating his right to free movement," he said on Twitter.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency, senior New Delhi police office Anto Alphonse denied the claims on the chief minister's arrest. "It is incorrect. There is nothing like that," he said.
On Tuesday morning, reports pouring in from different parts of the country said several fruit and vegetable markets remained shut with transport services also affected due to the strike. Over 20 opposition parties and several associations have backed the strike nationwide.
"Today, there is a countrywide protest by farmers. They are protesting everywhere and it will continue till 3 p.m.," Rakesh Tikait, a senior member of the Bharatiya Kisan Union farmer group, told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.
According to the New Delhi traffic police, several borders continued to remain closed due to the farmers' agitation. In a news conference on Tuesday afternoon, police said the situation in the capital was "peaceful and absolutely under control."
Security at some border checkpoints in New Delhi was tightened Monday night, including with the deployment of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) ahead of the strike.
- Why are farmers protesting?
In September, the Indian government announced "three agricultural reforms," which farmers and experts believe will bring further exploitation and threaten food security.
The new reforms allow large companies to buy produce from farmers directly. In India, farmers usually sell their produce at local state-registered markets that ensure them a minimum support price protecting them from price shocks in case of a bad harvest.
Farmers believe that in the absence of state regulators, big corporations will exploit them. The new laws also promote contract farming and lift a ban on storing potatoes, onions and pulses.
The Indian government is trying to resolve the matter through talks. So far, five rounds have taken place without any progress, with the next round due on Dec. 9.
- COVID-19 cases cross 9.7M
The protests come at a time when India is battling the coronavirus pandemic. With over 26,000 new cases on Tuesday, the total number of infections crossed the 9.7-million mark. Tuesday's daily case count was the lowest in five months, the Health Ministry figures showed.
Doctor groups have also announced an agitation on Dec. 8 against the Modi-led government's decision allowing post-graduate practitioners of Ayurveda -- a traditional healing system -- to be trained to perform general surgeries.