Farmers and farm labourers belonging to 286 border villages of Amritsar district held a demonstration here on Thursday to demand better amenities and facilities for them.
Their main demand was that the central government should immediately re-define the boundaries of the border belt along the Indo-Pakistan border. Currently an area coming within 16-km from the zero line is defined as a 'border belt'. They demand that the proximity of 8-km from the zero line should be taken into account for defining the 'border belt'.
Border Area Sangarsh Committeee secretary Rattan Singh Randhawa, while addressing the gathering, said that a cut in the parameter for the border area would ensure better overall development of villages lying close to the border. This would mean better utilisation of border area funds and grants, coming from both the central and state governments, he added.
"Studies conducted by various sources have shown that villages closer to the Indo-Pak border are less developed as compared to villages that are away but qualify for being considered for border area grants. Political leaders often tend to ignore villages close to the border as these have a lesser number of voters than villages slightly away", explained Randhawa while pointing out that as per government rules, Khasa, which is close to Amritsar, qualifies for border area grants despite being a developed village/town.
Referring to studies conducted in the border villages, Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) faculty members, Dr JS Sekhon and Dr Harpreet Kaur said that education and health services in villages close to the border were in shambles. The two pointed out that while the literacy rate for Amritsar district was 61.42 per cent, for the border belt of the district it was 57.6 per cent.
Jamhuri Kisan Sabha president Satnam Singh Ajnala spoke on the poor condition of roads in the border areas and lack of adequate public transport facilities. He also pointed to the difficulties that farmers faced, particularly those who had agricultural land between the zero line and fence, as their working hours in the fields were limited due to security reasons.
The farmers also demanded that the annual allowance of `3000 per acre that the state government paid to the farmers, having land between the zero line and the fence, was inadequate. The demand was to increase this to `10,000 per acre, with the central government chipping in with its share, which had not been paid for the last couple of years.
The demands also included a special quota in government jobs for residents of 'genuine' border villages and setting up of agro-based industries in the border districts and other employment- oriented ventures.