The fallout of whitefly pest attack on cotton crop in Haryana and Punjab is a study in contrast.
Though girdawari (revenue survey) to assess crop loss is yet to be completed in Haryana, preliminary statistics suggest the damaged area in the state’s four cotton growing districts — Sirsa, Hisar, Fatehabad and Bhiwani — is expected to be higher than the figure in neighbouring Punjab. But surprisingly, while Punjab seems to be in turmoil — farmers’ suicide, angry protests, and rail roko agitation by an irate peasantry — their counterparts in Haryana have, so far, shown a lot of restraint. The turbulence in Punjab is rather in stark contrast to Haryana’s tranquility.
The spurious pesticide scam in Punjab added fuel to fire, making the farmers’ resentment a political issue by giving more ammunition to the opposition parties in the state. As per the statistics shared by the two states in a mid-September meeting of agriculture ministers, about 52% (3.06 lakh of 5.83 lakh hectares) of the cotton area in Haryana is damaged as opposed to about 30% (1.36 lakh of 4.65 lakh hectares) in Punjab.
The matter will come up during the conference of deputy commissioners and superintendents of police scheduled for October 16 in Chandigarh, when the DCs will convey a tentative quantum of damage to the chief minister. District officials will have to cross-check the crop damage statistics before these are finalised, officials have said.
Even though the damage assessment in Haryana is yet to be over, its farmers are content apparently because of a high percentage of compensation that the BJP government distributed earlier this year for wheat-crop loss. “It is a matter of credibility. Farmers know that their government distributed the highest-ever crop compensation in the state — Rs 1,092 crore — for the damage to rabi crop due to unseasonal rain, so they expect a fair deal in cotton’s case as well,” said a top Haryana official. Sources said the compensation for damage to wheat and mustard crop was distributed with such generosity that there were complaints later that even many undeserving people had benefited.
Officials attribute the successful compensation distribution to meticulous planning and swifter approach as well. “We learnt our lesson in the rabi season. This time, we handled things in quick time and ordered girdawari before the opposition could exploit the matter,” said another official. While opposition legislators from the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) as well as the Congress raised the whitefly-attack issue in the last assembly session, there were no organised protests.
Farmers’ unions and impending polls
While in Punjab, the rabble-rousing farmers’ unions are more organised and motivated, Haryana has seen a steep decline probably in farmer leadership. Also since elections are a year away in Punjab, arm-twisting by the farmers unions for a higher compensation is but expected. The unions see the Rs 8,000-per-acre compensation announced by Punjab as grossly inadequate.
Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) Haryana president Gurnam Singh Charuni blames the competition for “chaudhar” (influence) as a reason for the lack of unity among agricultural trade unions in the state. “That’s why they have been unable to take up the cause of Haryana farmers who have lost cotton crop this year,” he said. Quoting an instance, Charuni said when Bharatiya Kisan Sangharsh Samiti (not part of the BKU) started a dharna outside Hisar’s mini secretariat on Sunday for enhanced cotton compensation, he had not even been invited. “I went there on my own,” he added.
“Previously Kisan Sabha, a Left-supported farmers’ outfit, held similar programmes at the same site for enhanced cotton compensation. Unfortunately, these farmers unions in Haryana prefer not to take other unions along, which divides the farming community,” he said. “Farmers in the cotton belt of Haryana have sown Bt cotton and the state announced compensation of Rs 5,500 per acre is quite less. When I visited Hisar on Monday, the agitating farmers said they were expecting Rs 12,000 per acre as compensation,” Charuni claimed.
In the absence of unity, farmers’ issues did not get highlighted, he said. Charuni said that after Mahendra Singh Tikait in the national arena, Ghasi Ram Nain was a prominent farmer leader in Haryana. “But the Congress won him over and he lost his mass base. Since then, the farming community in the state is in search of an able leader,” he claimed.
Lack of consolidation
The BKU president said he had tried to consolidate support from various farmers unions in Haryana and Punjab to build a consensus on minimum programmes from a common platform. “No one was willing to let go of the command of small groups. There are four-to-five kisan unions in Haryana but none extends support to the other. The leader of one is a reporter in a language newspaper, and he get space in the media without doing much fieldwork,” he said.
Damaged cotton area
Haryana - 3.06 lakh of 5.83 lakh hectares
Punjab - 1.36 lakh of 4.65 lakh hectares