Akali Rajya Sabha MP Balwinder Singh Bhunder and Punjab Agricultural University vice-chancellor Baldev Singh Dhillon faced the farmers’ wrath on the whitefly issue during the kisan mela at the regional centre of Punjab Agricultural University here on Tuesday.
The aggression shown by farmers, who were upset over the loss to their cotton crop, left both Bhunder and Dhillon red-faced and they were forced to leave the venue in a huff. Not only this, the protesters didn’t allow them to speak during the function. Later, the agitators virtually hijacked the stage and created a ruckus. People could be seen throwing paper balls at Bhunder and the PAU officials while they were leaving the venue.
Besides the alleged insensitive attitude of the state government to their losses, the farmers were offended by the PAU V-C’s recent statement in which he had held farmers responsible for the whitefly attack.
The protest started when Balwinder Singh, PAU director of research, gave a brief account of how the farmers did not follow the PAU recommendations to tackle the whitefly attack. At this, one of the farmers sitting near the stage started shouting, “Don’t blame us, we were not guilty, rather it was the PAU and state government that should own up responsibility for the farmers’ losses.” Varinder Singh, another farmer, said, “From seeds to pesticides, everything was spurious. And now to save its skin, the government is blaming us.”
Following this, the PAU V-C tried to pacify the farmers, but people started shouting slogans against the government and PAU officials. Bhunder also repeatedly tried to pacify the protesters, but they booed him every time he stood up from his chair.
Though Bhunder and Dhillon remained on the stage for more than half an hour, sensing trouble, they decided to leave the venue under security.
Later, talking to HT, a visibly upset Bhunder said he would not call the incident unfortunate as it was bound to happen since farming in the state is in a pathetic state. “I was also there to support the farmers, if only they had allowed me to speak,” he said.
“Chief minister Parkash Singh Badal has repeatedly met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the past few months over agriculture issues, but the Centre has failed to take note,” Bhunder said, while admitting that the Punjab government had a dearth of resources for compensating the farmers.
Meanwhile, Dhillon said he had been misinterpreted as he had only said that the farmers didn’t follow the university guidelines while dealing with the whitefly attack. “I maintain that besides the weather and late sowing, the excessive spray of the pesticide acephate multiplied the whitefly attack,” he said.