Giving a ray of hope to around 4,000 farmers of Punjab whose cultivable land falls in the area of the border fencing and the international border between India and Pakistan, the Punjab and Haryana high court has directed the state as well as central governments to reconsider compensation to be paid to farmers if their land cannot be acquired.
Hearing a public interest litigation filed by The Punjab Border Kisan Welfare Society, the division bench comprising chief justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul and justice Augustine George Masih granted two months’ time to the authorities to take the decision and submit their response.
During the hearing of the case, the court was surprised to hear that the Punjab government was paying a compensation of Rs 3,000 per acre to farmers per year as of now, marginally higher than Rs 2,500 per acre paid in 1999. The court said, “The price index has gone up and the amount of compensation is not appropriate. Also, both Punjab and the Centre should share the burden of compensation and reconsider the amount to be paid to farmers.”
The petitioner society, having members in the border districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Ferozepur and Tarn Taran, had approached the high court, seeking directions to the state government that their land measuring around 34,000 acres should be acquired as per the Land Acquisition Act and they should be adequately compensated. It had been prayed that the barbed-wire fencing of 40-80 ft width installed at about 500-metre distance from the Line of Actual Control throughout the Indo-Pak border area of Punjab in 1985-86 be removed so that they could cultivate their land and have the right to enjoy the benefit of the crops produced.
The petitioner society had submitted that a number of representations had been submitted to the state government and parliamentarians from time to time that the farmers were not able to go across the fencing to plough their fields without the entry pass from the security forces and there were restrictions of time on the entry. It was also submitted that the farmers were not allowed to produce crop of more than 4-ft height and the output was always less than 50% for every crop.
Border fence to be shifted
Border Security Force (BSF) inspector general (IG) Jagat Singh informed the court on Friday that the Centre was making efforts to shift the fence closer to the international border at a distance of 150 yards from the existing 500 yards, wherever feasible. As per rules, there cannot be any construction within 150 yards from the international border. It was informed that in order to curb the activity of unscrupulous elements such as terrorists, smugglers etc., only those farmers are allowed to go across the fence who are in possession of the identity card issued by the BSF.
Land acquisition ‘not feasible’
The IG also informed the court that acquisition of cultivable land lying ahead of the border security fencing would not be feasible with large tracts of fertile land lying vacant and it would be a loss to the nation as agricultural yield would not be harnessed. However, continuing agriculture activity not only kept the land clear of wild growth but also acted as a deterrent against venturing of anti-national elements into Indian territory.
‘Pak intelligence involved in smuggling’
“As the intelligence agencies of the counterpart (Pakistan) are continuously making concerted efforts to push narcotics, fake Indian currency notes, arms and ammunition, explosives into own side, giving free access to farmers ahead of the border security fence will be detrimental to national security as there will be chances of gullible farmers being lured by counterpart intelligence agencies,” informed the IG. The international border in Punjab is a highly smuggling-prone area in which more than 200 kg of drugs (value in international market approximately Rs 1,000 crore) are seized by the BSF annually, he added.