The whitefly attack on cotton in the Malwa belt which includes chief minister Parkash Singh Badal’s home turf is cause of a major worry for the ruling alliance.
More than two dozen assembly constituencies of seven districts of southwest Punjab have been badly affected in the pest attack.
With political parties in Punjab gearing up for the highstake 2017 assembly polls, the crop failure is likely to become a major issue in the upcoming elections.
The ruling SAD-BJP regime is likely to face the heat as its political rivals such as the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) would try to cash in on the situation to put it on the backfoot, opine experts.
The pesticide scam and the alleged involvement of Punjab director agriculture Mangal Singh Sandhu in it has further added to the state government’s woes by adversely affecting its image. Sandhu’s arrest and chargesheeting of two lowerrung officials of the agriculture department is being viewed as a damage-control exercise by the government.
According to the government, of 4.65 lakh hectares on which cotton was sown, 1.4 lakh hectares have suffered severe damage.
The damage is expected to rise as the maturing period of the crop nears. At some places, the damage has been so severe that about 11,000 acres of cotton crop has already been ploughed by the farmers.
The government had on September 28 announced a compensation of Rs 600 crore to cotton cultivators.
Additionally, the government has disbursed Rs 10 crore to farmers who had ploughed their cotton crop.
Though the state government has taken corrective steps by announcing compensation and taking punitive action against agriculture department officers, it won’t change the perception of farmers, who have suffered heavy losses and are blaming state government for their miseries, easily.
The issue of supply of spurious pesticides , which have failed to check the white fly attack, was first highlighted by Congress Legislature Party leader Sunil Jakhar. “Can’t say how much damage the SAD would suffer politically, but the farmers have been badly hit. Their loss is unfathomable. More the government is trying to hide the cracks in the entire system, the more it is getting exposed,” says Jakhar, adding that “everyone knows to whom (Mangal Singh) Sandhu is connected and at whose cost he made money.
The AAP has also trained guns on the government over the issue by holding rallies in the cotton belt and was successful in gathering huge crowds.
Though SAD’s Bathinda district president Sikandar Singh Maluka, who is also minister for rural development and panchayats, accepted that the recent cotton crisis has hit the government’s image, he said parry’s political opponents were known for raising such issues when polls are round the corner.
Maluka said three assembly segments Bathinda rural, Maur and Talwandi Sabo have suffered the maximum damage.
Maluka said Sandhu’s arrest is a step towards course correction and would help in changing the perception of people.
“Our vote-bank has not move anywhere. In any case, it’s going to be a triangular contest in 2017 polls and we have always emerged a winner in such fights,” claimed Maluka, adding that development done in the state would speak up for the SAD.
Maluka said like Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan too have suffered damage to the cotton crop, but these states have not taken punitive action in this regard so far.
His remarks seem to prove the point that the government has gone into a damage-control mode to boost its image keeping in view the 2017 polls.