Worries pile up for border farmers, paddy season on, but wheat not sold

The recurrent Pakistan shelling and firing on Indian villages along the 198-km-long International Border (IB) have left the entire farming community in despair as farmers have been not able to carry out normal agricultural activities in their fields. During the last one week, thousands of farmers from border villages have fled their homes and taken refuge at relief camps following intense shelling on the entire border belt from Paharpur on the Kathua-Punjab border to the Chicken’s Neck area of Akhnoor in Jammu district. The agricultural land within the radius of five kilometres from the IB, measuring about 1.25 lakh hectares, falls under the firing and shelling range. The rabi crops, especially wheat, have been lying unattended in deserted houses, even as the farmers’ concern about the next paddy crop is mounting.

The villagers are unable to get their fields ready to raise seedlings prior to the transplantation of paddy. Another worry is the non-availability of labour from outside the state. Labourers, particularly from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, are not ready to work in fields under the present hostile border conditions. “We had a bumper crop of wheat this year but it is now lying unattended at our homes in Treva, a village close to the IB which has been heavily shelled by Pakistan. The situation turned volatile on the border just after we harvested wheat crop. We did not get the time to sell our produce in the market. We don’t have any other source of income, how will we sustain our families?” asked Rattan Lal, a 58-year-old farmer staying at a relief camp in Government Higher Secondary School, Salehar, Jammu. Choudhary Dev Raj, president of the RS Pura Basmati Rice Growers Association, claimed that nearly 1 lakh to 1.25 lakh hectares in the border area, known for its world-class basmati, was directly affected by Pakistan shelling. “This is the most suitable time for border farmers to start the preparation for the paddy crop. A delay of even 15 days will lead to either a low yield or just no crop.

Farmers do not want much from the government, all that they seek is peace on the border,” said Raj. The rice association president said: “We had been demanding a special budget for border farmers as they come in direct line of enemy shelling. They have been facing losses forthe last three years due to the shelling, but no compensation has been paid to them so far”. Ganshyam Sharma, president, Border Kissan Welfare Union, Kathua, said: “Farmers in our areas are totally dependent on rain as there is no irrigation facility. They have migrated to safer places without any source of livelihood and if this situation continues, our worries are what will they eat