NEW DELHI- India's Supreme Court said on Thursday farmers are entitled to protest against the government over three new agricultural laws but protesters cannot block a road indefinitely.
For 11 months, tens of thousands of farmers have camped out on major highways around the capital New Delhi to oppose the laws, introduced late last year, in the longest-running growers' protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government.
"The farmers have the right to protest, but (they) cannot keep the roads blocked indefinitely for that," Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said in the Supreme Court ruling.
A petitioner had approached the Supreme Court to complain that farmer encampments on the highways that link New Delhi with its neighbouring states are creating problems for motorists.
Farmer groups told the court that their protests are confined to a small portion of the highways. They said police have erected a row of barricades around the protest sites, leading to roadblocks.
The outcome of Thursday's hearing was preliminary and the court asked farmer's groups to submit their response, with a further hearing scheduled for Dec. 7.
The government says the new laws will unshackle farmers from having to sell their produce only at regulated wholesale markets and make contract farming easier.
Farmers insist that the new laws will leave them at the mercy of big corporations.
(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty; editing by Mayank Bhardwaj and Mark Heinrich) ((firstname.lastname@example.org; +91-11-4954 8030; Twitter: @MayankBhardwaj9; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com))