Central Indian district imposes curfew after farmers die in clashes

NEW DELHI (AFP) - A round-the-clock curfew was in force on Wednesday (June 7) in a central Indian district where five farmers were killed in clashes with police during protests to demand loan waivers and higher prices for their crops.

Mobile Internet was cut off and thousands of police in riot gear patrolled the streets of the Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh state after the violence on Tuesday.

Organisers say police opened fire after the protest turned violent on Tuesday, with some throwing rocks, torching vehicles and firing at riot police.

S K Singh, a senior government official in Mandsaur, told AFP the situation was broadly under control and the curfew would be lifted once the situation improved.

"There were few incidents of violation of the curfew orders but overall the situation is under control," he said.

Thousands of farmers in the drought-ravaged region are demanding that authorities increase the minimum price for their crops and forgive bank loans.

India has nearly 260 million farmers and farm labourers, and agriculture accounts for 17 per cent of the country's gross domestic product.

But a lack of irrigation facilities and years of erratic monsoon rains have led to a crisis in the sector, with thousands of farmers across the country reportedly killing themselves over crop failures and debt every year.

Madhya Pradesh is one of several states that have suffered disappointing rains and crop failures in recent years.

More than 1,600 farmers killed themselves in the state in 2016, according to official figures.

Farmers in neighbouring Maharashtra state have held similar protests and have stopped supplies to urban areas, leading to a spike in the prices of vegetables and dairy products.

The protests pose a challenge to the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which has promised to double farm income in the next two years.