The special secretary in the union ministry of agriculture and cooperation, Siraj Hussain, was taken aback when he was told that the Integrated Check Post (ICP) at the Attari-Wagah border has not been able to serve the interests of the farmers of Punjab as most of the agricultural commodities that are exported to Pakistan through the ICP are from other states.
This was an eye-opener for the union ministry official when he visited the ICP on Monday. When he saw truckloads of tomatoes lined up outside the ICP, he formed an impression that this commodity must have been grown by farmers of the border state. However, he was surprised when officials of the state agriculture and horticulture departments, who were accompanying him, revealed that the tomatoes had come all the way from Maharashtra.
Likewise, he was also told that the onions and soybean too had come from states other than Punjab and Haryana. Perhaps the only agricultural commodity of Punjab that is sought in Pakistan is potato seed.
"I have suggested to Punjab officials to organise visits of Punjab farmers to the ICP so that they can see for themselves the commodities that Pakistan requires. Perhaps these trips will motivate the farmers to grow vegetables or fruits or other crops that are required across the border. This way they can augment their farm income, which mainly comes from wheat and paddy," Hussain said while talking to HT at a kinnow orchard in Firvarian village near Ajnala on Tuesday, the second day of his official visit to Amritsar district.
At Firvarian, he visited the farm of Maj Manmohan Singh (retd), a leading agriculturalist of the state. He interacted with a number of farmers and most of them lamented that the state government had done little towards providing processing facilities for fruits and vegetables.
He also held a meeting with state agriculture and horticulture department officials to take stock of the fund utilisation under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY). He said the state government should come up with area-specific agricultural projects that cater to the needs of a particular area. Funds can be sought under the RKVY for these projects.
Border farmers submit memo
On behalf of the farmers who have landholdings in the trans-Ravi 'bet' area in the districts of Amritsar and Gurdaspur, Maj Manmohan Singh (retd) submitted to Hussain a memorandum apprising him of their difficulties.
The memo pointed out that around 9,500 acres of fertile land lies across the Ravi up to the zero line. However, all the owners of this land operate from the other side of the Ravi and find it very difficult to go across the river to cultivate their land.
"The entire agricultural activity is carried out by using a temporary bridge (upstream) in Gurdaspur district, which is available for just four-five months and it cannot take heavy loads. Farmers of Amritsar district have to travel 50 km upstream to use this bridge to reach their landholdings," the memo stated.
The farmers have requested that another temporary bridge should be provided downstream in Amritsar district. They have also requested that if possible, a permanent structure should be built at a suitable place for crossing the Ravi, for which the union agriculture ministry will have to approach the ministry of defence.