Punjab agriculture minister Tota Singh on Sunday pulled up Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) vice-chancellor BS Dhillon for blaming cotton farmers for the whitefly pest attack that has destroyed a large portion of the crop in the state’s southwest districts.
V-C Dhillon is in the eye of storm after his remarks and “a government of peasants” being in power, the state top brass also wants him to retract his statement. So far, he hasn’t. Tota Singh asked Dhillon not to give the distressed farmers blame when they needed help. “You can’t blame farmers for the whitefly attack. It’s like rubbing salt into their wounds,” the agriculture minister added, suggesting the V-C should own up the crisis instead of finding fault with farmers.
Inaugurating a Kisan Mela in Jalandhar on Saturday, V-C tried to pull the government out of this controversy by saying that every crop failure can’t be blamed on it, but the statement only ended up annoying the faming class that the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal claims to represent. Dhillon claimed that farmers had not used the right seeds and pesticides. He took the plea of staff shortage to claim that the onus of the losses that cotton farmers have suffered is not on the PAU.
“Who want to lose a season’s crop. Some farmers can commit an error in sowing but not all. The government will stand by them in every crisis. The issue will be taken up in a meeting on Monday,” said the agriculture minister. He was for treating the whitefly attack as “a natural calamity” that had also affected Haryana and Rajasthan. “Can we blame the farmers of all three states?” he asked the media, adding that the pest attacked some portion of the crop every year but this time it had multiplied at much faster rate because of conducive climatic condition. The minister also asked experts and the universities to look for a solution.
Who’d give them relief?
Agricultural experts said that when the PAU was laying the blame on farmers, who would fight their case for compensation? “The state government has ordered a girdawari (revenue survey) to assess the loss and promised compensation to the farmers but will it compensate them after holding them responsible?” said a retired agricultural officer.
‘Passing the buck’
Food security expert Devinder Sharma said this was the best way to pass the buck — just blame the farmers and save own skin. “I am shocked at the V-C’s remarks. The PAU rather should rush its experts to the areas where the pest has destroyed the crop.” he said.
‘Confession of failure’
The Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta-Dakauda) termed the PAU vice-chancellor’s comments as his candid confession of the failure of his institute and its scientists and extension workers.
The agricultural trade union also condemned BS Dhillon for saying that farmers expected a lot from the university but were not ready to contribute even a penny to research. BJU state general secretary Jagmohan Singh and Patiala district president Darshan Pal said many small farmers who couldn’t read even simple publications of the university consulted arhtiyas (commission agents) on purchasing seeds, fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides.