Life in Sutlej’s midst: A leaky boat the backbone of agriculture in these Punjab villages | punjab | Hindustan Times
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Life in Sutlej’s midst: A leaky boat the backbone of agriculture in these Punjab villages

The 12 riverine villages of Ferozepur district in Punjab are a picture of official and political apathy despite tall claims made by the state and Union governments

punjab Updated: Apr 28, 2017 16:57 IST
Amit R Joshi and Nikhil Sharma
Farmers transporting a combine harvester on a non-motorised boat to harvest wheat crop across the Sutlej river.
Farmers transporting a combine harvester on a non-motorised boat to harvest wheat crop across the Sutlej river.(HT Photo)

The 12 riverine villages of Ferozepur district in Punjab are a picture of official and political apathy despite tall claims made by the state and Union governments.

The farmers here have to use a boat to reach their fields across the Sutlej river. A dilapidated boat is used to ferry everything, from tractors and trolleys to combine harvesters to till their land surrounded by the river.

Bagicha Singh, a marginal farmer of Chandiwala village, said that they risk their lives to till the riverine fields. The non-motorised boat purchased by the farmers five years ago has started leaking, making the boat ride an unenviable experience with part of the time dedicated to baling out water.

“Long debates and discussions are run on farmer welfare schemes and financial benefits to farmers but the sad reality is that we have never received any grant from the government,” complained Bagicha Singh, adding that he was sure the funds were released by the government but never reached the villagers.

Farmers of these villages are forced to shell out a higher sum for combines due to the risks involved.

Buta Singh, a farmer, said while the standard rate for a combine during harvesting is Rs 1,200 per acre, they have to pay more than Rs 1,500. At times, getting a combine itself becomes a task as owners are reluctant to lease it out to the riverine villages.

The lone leaky boat ferries everyone, including women who accompany their husbands to the fields. Kaltaro Kaur says, “We have been living like this since ages. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Congress or Akalis at the helm, we continue to struggle for survival in these harsh circumstances.”

Mangal Singh, a former sarpanch of the village, says the boat used by them was purchased through the MPLAD funds but now it’s in a dire need of repair.

GRAIN DRAIN

The villages also lack sheds for storing the harvested grains. As a result, inclement weather is a constant threat to their produce. The reliance on the riverine system of transportation also delays the arrival of their produce in the grain markets.

“We have to harvest and take the produce to the mandi as soon as possible because we can’t keep it anywhere. In the absence of a bridge, it takes a lot of time to reach our fields, delaying the arrival of our crop in grain markets”, says Mangal Singh.

Residents of these villages blame the government for not taking any remedial step to make their life easy. They complain that they have to face many hardships during the rainy season as Pakistan releases water and they have to travel more than 20 km to reach Ferozepur city through the lone bridge at Hussainiwala.

The solution lies in constructing a bridge over the Sutlej at Habib Ke village, which will reduce the distance from these villages to Ferozepur to less than 5 km. But whether the powers-that-be will implement this solution is the question.

The house where the Bollywood blockbuster Bhaag Milkha Bhaag was shot. (HT Photo)

Frozen in time: Milkha biopic shot in village

The biopic on legendary athlete Milkha Singh, ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’, was shot at Chandiwala village. Scenes of Milkha’s house in Pakistan were set in the house of Kultaro Kaur. It is an irony that she has not watched the movie yet.

“I rarely travel outside the village,” she says. Sadly, there was no need to create a set for the movie as this region is frozen in time. The makers of the film could pass it off it as Pakistan 50 years ago.