The Union Government was quick to announce Rs 25 lakh aid for the family of Sarbjit Singh who died after being attacked in Lahore jail, and the Punjab Government followed suit with Rs 1 crore, but everyone has forgotten the plight of Punjab’s farmers on the Indian side of the Indo-Pak border who have been waiting for the compensation promised by the Centre under Border Area Development Programme for 15 years.
Punjab shares a 553-km border with Pakistan. Practically, there are two border lines between India and Pakistan. One is ‘the Zero Line’ that divides the two countries and the second is the barbed fencing erected during the 1990s to keep terrorists and smugglers at bay.
The border fence on Punjab frontier splits the land of the farmers into two, becoming a hurdle for them in cultivating land and making carrying out of everyday farm chores an uphill task.
The Centre then chalked out the ambitious border development programme in 1998 under which each farmer whose land fell across the barbed fence would to be given a compensation of `3,000 per acre.
“After receiving just one payment we were told that funds had been exhausted,” said Kanwalpreet Singh Pannu, a farmer leader. He said the Kissan Sangarsh Committee (KSC) had launched a struggle against the government over the issue.
Pannu said the border area was once prosperous, but after the partition, they lagged behind in development owing to the wars with Pakistan and border related restrictions on agriculture and setting up of industries.
“The border turned out to be a bane and the governments have paid no heed to the problems being faced by the farmers. Thousands of farmers were left in the lurch when the barbed fence was erected to ward off anti-national elements on the border,”said Pannu, adding that even if a farmer wanted to get fodder from his land beyond the fence, he had to wait for hours to get gates opened by the BSF.
This is not the only obstacle they face. “We are not allowed to grow crops that grow above three feet in height beyond the barbed fence or even near the fence away from border line. Roads are broken and schools are without proper buildings and teachers,” said Major Singh, a farmer of Mastgarh village.
The farmers in border districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Tarn Taran and Ferozepur are a disillusioned lot as the Centre is blind to the problems they face every day. There are other restraints in the way of cultivating agriculture lands beyond the barbed fence on the border -- inadequate roads, erratic power supply, lack of education and health infrastructure.