R32-crore goes down the drain
Security reasons and a financial loss of over Rs 32 crore has left the Punjab government with no other option but to shut down its seed farm close to Raniana and Kakkar villages across Ravi river in Amritsar district.
One of the most ambitious projects of the state agriculture department, the farm, spread over 852 acres, was to be primarily used for producing hybrid and quality wheat seeds. This was in line with the government's National Food Security Mission to annually replace 30% of the existing wheat seed with new varieties to get better yields.
The farm was also to be used for developing seed varieties of other crops of short height. The cultivation of high-rising crops like sugarcane is not allowed close to this highly sensitive border.
Doubts about the project were expressed from Day One when the process of acquiring the land commenced in 2008 as it was located in a riverine belt and close to the spot where the Ravi makes its final entry into Pakistan.
For running the farm, the Amritsar administration, under the then deputy commissioner, Kahan Singh Pannu, had formed the Amritsar Seed Farm Society. The DC was the chairperson of the society, while the Amritsar chief agriculture officer (CAO) was to be the secretary. Experts in the field of seed breeding, including one from Punjab Agricultural University, were members of the society.
The losses incurred since 2008 are to the tune of Rs 32.25 crore, including the Rs 25-lakh loss suffered due to damage to crops by animals and birds. The remaining losses were on account of the acquisition amount paid to farmers.
Reasons for failure
Admitting that the seed farm had been closed, DC Rajat Aggarwal told HT that running the farm proved to be a Herculean task as many restrictions were imposed by security agencies guarding the border. The damage to crops by wild animals also negated the efforts, he said.
"We incurred heavy financial losses as wild animals, particularly wild boars, played havoc with the wheat crop grown on the farm. We could do little about it in the absence of firearms, which are not permitted for civilians along the border. Moreover, civilians, including higher officials, are not allowed near the border after dusk. As a result, there was no one to guard the crops," said Aggarwal, pointing out that no cultivation was done on the farm in the wheat-sowing season.
The DC said the plans for the project had to be changed from time to time as per the requirements of the BSF and the army. The society had planned to put up a fence around the farm, but the security agencies objected to it.
Transportation of farm implements and other machinery across Ravi river was another impediment. During monsoon, it became impossible to transport the machinery across the Ravi due to rise in water level.
"As it is a sensitive area, we encountered labour problems too. The working hours were limited to six hours," said the DC.
Tubewells were also to come up in the area, but the BSF objected to the construction of permanent structures close to the border.
"These issues were brought to the notice of the financial commissioner, development after holding discussions with the Krishi Vigyan Kendra and the agriculture department. It was finally decided to abandon the project," said Aggarwal.
"From 2008 to 2010, only wheat was cultivated, but last year the society experimented with 'til' (oilseed), but it met the same fate," said CAO DS Dhanju.
Farmers want their land back
Though the government had acquired 852 acres, an area of 682 acres was levelled and made cultivable. High elephantine grass used to grow in this tract before the government decided to acquire it for the farm. However, due to lack of infrastructure, about 300 acres of land was in use and the rest was lying vacant.
An amount of around Rs 4.5 lakh per acre was given to the people whose land was acquired, a majority of whom belonged to Ranian.
However, some farmers now want their land back. After 1984, no crop was grown in this area as farmers were not allowed to cross the Ravi due to security reasons.