India landless call off march to Delhi after deal signed

Farmers and members of India"s rural communities participate in a "Jan Satyagraha" march on the national highway at Morena district of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh October 5, 2012
Image caption The protesters were mostly tribespeople and landless labourers

A protest march by thousands of India's landless poor has been called off after a deal with the government.

Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh met the protesters to sign the agreement to provide land to the poor.

The government would also work to protect and develop land belonging to low-caste Dalits and tribespeople, the agreement says.

The protesters began marching last week from Madhya Pradesh and aimed to reach the capital, Delhi, by late October.

On Thursday, Mr Ramesh travelled to the city of Agra to meet the protesters and sign the accord outlining the government's plans to provide land for the landless.

Under the agreement, the government would work with the state governments to guarantee a small plot of land to "every landless rural poor household".

Both sides agreed that the draft of a national land reforms policy would be put up for public debate within six months with an aim to finalise it soon.

Land is a state subject in India, and has become a huge political issue.

State governments need land for industry or infrastructure projects, but farmers and tribespeople say that cannot happen at their expense.

Last year, there were violent clashes between farmers and police in the Bhatta-Parsaul villages of northern Uttar Pradesh state over the acquisition of farmland for road and industry.

And in 2009, the Tata group was forced to abandon plans to set up a factory at Singur in West Bengal to build the Nano - the world's cheapest car - after protests by farmers.

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