Ranjit Singh, a cotton farmer in Punjab’s Bathinda district, was devastated when he lost his entire crop to a pest attack this year. But he was still hopeful because the government had assured the state’s farmers they would be compensated if their crop was wiped out.
It didn’t take long for Singh’s hopes to be dashed to the ground. The farmer from Chughe Kalan village was stunned when he received a measly Rs 11 cheque from the government to compensate for his one acre cotton crop which was destroyed by whiteflies, sap-sucking insects that pose one of the biggest threats to agricultural production in the tropics and sub-tropics.
Singh is one of about 200 farmers with landholdings of about 500 acres each in Bathinda alone who are reeling from the double blow of a whitefly attack and staggeringly-low compensation from the government. Cotton farmers are furious the government has handed them cheques for Rs 11, Rs 15 or Rs 80 for their crops following the whitefly attack that has wiped out some 1.36 lakh hectares, or about 30% of the total 4.5 lakh hectares under cotton cultivation in six districts.
“This self-styled farmer-friendly government is rubbing salt on our wounds. I was given a Rs 50 cheque which is not even equal to the input cost of a single cotton plant stick,” said Nazar Singh, a farmer who received just Rs 50 after his two-acre cotton crop was destroyed.
The state government has dubbed the pest attack in Bathinda, Muktsar, Fazilka, Moga, Faridkot and Ferozepur a “natural calamity” and offered to compensate farmers for their crop loss. According to government policy, affected farmers will get Rs 8,000 per acre in compensation if 75% their crop is destroyed.
But few farmers have seen that kind of money. Annoyed at the paltry compensation amounts, at least 80 farmers from Chughe Kalan refused to accept the cheques they received from the government.
Government officials said the farmers were compensated according to the size of their land.
“If the farmer has half a marla of land, he would be paid for only that as per the norms,” said financial commissioner (revenue) Karan Avtar Singh.
“We are giving compensation as per government rules. If a farmer has one damaged cotton stick, he will be compensated for that. If the farmer has a million cotton sticks, the compensation will be given accordingly.”
Farmers who received cheques for as little as Rs 11 or Rs 17 cheque had sown cotton on at least an acre of land each, but officials say the root of the problem lies in faulty documentation of revenue records.
Operational land holdings are not recorded properly and, moreover, there are often multiple shareholders. A one-acre land holding can be in the name of several people and more than 60% of farmers are actually cultivators and not owners. As a result, the compensation is divided equally between the actual owners as well as the cultivators, leaving farmers with cheques for as little as Rs 11 to make up for their crop loss.
“The government should have given me at least the invested amount so that I could have used it to make arrangements the for next crop,” said Harpal Singh, a farmer, who received a cheque of Rs 80 for his crop loss on 1.25 acres land. “With this amount, one cannot buy even buy a packet of seeds.”