Farmers in border areas of Rajasthan and Punjab are feeling the heat of the India-Pakistan standoff because for the first time since the Kargil conflict they are not allowed to tend to their fields, and their anxiety rises with frequent announcements from the other side urging Pakistani villagers to vacate the area.
Farmers cannot spray pesticides or irrigate wheat, mustard, chana and vegetable any time, leaving them worried about theft or damage to farm equipment lying unattended in the fields. Punjab has a 533-km border with Pakistan, while Rajasthan has 1,037 km. “Most are unwilling to work on their fields due to beefed up security,” Punjab rural development and panchayats minister Rajinder Singh Bajwa said.
He said people get nervous when they hear loudspeaker announcements from mosques across the border. The minister, who represents the border constituency of Fatehgarh Churian in district Gurdaspur, said he was getting frequent calls from farmers concerned about the situation.
The standing crop of wheat and vegetables in some parts of the border areas require tilling and the next dose of fertilisers and sprays after recent rains. “Most are unwilling to work on fields on the Indian side of the border and many have sent their children to relatives living away from the border,” said Dalbir Singh, Punjab’s chief agricultural officer.
A barbed fence close to the international border demarcates the boundary for civilians and those who own land close to the border are issued passes to visit their fields. “Usually, farmers are allowed to work between 9 am and 5 pm but no one has been allowed to cross in the last three days,” Singh said. Farming is the primary occupation of people along most of the villages located close to the 553-km international border in Punjab, and in some parts the agricultural fields merge with the border in districts of Gurdaspur,, Ferozepur, Tarn Taran and Amritsar.
Sukhwinder Pal Sandhu, 64, of 9 S-B village in Karanpur tehsil of Ganganagar district in Rajasthan, farms on 18 acres. Out of this, six acre lies in between the international border and the anti-infiltration border fence. “Since the past few days we are not being allowed to go to our fields. These condition are similar to the Kargil war. It is crucial stage for the wheat crop, which requires water. Similarly, chana and mustard field too needs to be irrigated.We will be going to meet government officials to allow us to visit the farms for few hours at least in the morning,” said Sandhu. He said that in another one month, the crop will be harvested. “My entire hard work now depends on this month,” added Sandhu.
Farmers were also concerned about the yellow rust infestation or other diseases, which usually come due to the change in the weather condition. “There is no firing on our side, so we should be allowed to go to our fields. The rains in the past few days are beneficial but the moist weather condition is conducive for pest infestation on wheat, so we are worried. If the situation prolongs then it is notgood forus,” saidDavidMassi, who farms on over 20 acres in Kassowala village of Ajnala tehsil in Amritsar district of Punjab.
Farmer leaders said the Centre should adequately compensate farmers for the losses in yields. “Punjab is always at the forefront of any war or the limited skirmishes they do. They never get compensated.
Farmers have started sending family member to safe grounds. In front of national security we can’t do anything but can only demand Rs 50,000 per acre if there is productivity and production loss. The harvesting will begin in another one month and we just wish the situation normalise,” said Balbir Singh Rajewal, leader of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Rajewal group).