FIROZEPUR/FATEHGARH SAHIB: It is a windy evening in Tindiwala village in Firozepur area of Punjab. A group of farmers with tractors full of freshly harvested wheat sacks and other farm machinery are patiently waiting at the banks of River Sutlej for the strong wind current to calm down so that they can transport their produce to the village on the other side of the river bank, some 500 metres away.
Taking the river route by loading tractors on big wooden rafts is a compulsion for farmers in 11 villages situated just a few hundred metres from the India-Pakistan border at Hussainiwala. A road route means a 10-12 km circuit and losing extra money in transportation.
It may not seem to be a big problem to outsiders. But if one considers this struggle of theirs that has continued for the last 40 years, which also involves losing their produce to the river when the big wooden boats turn turtle, it is indeed heartbreaking.
Farmers say election after election, politicians have come and promised a small bridge to ease their troubles. It never materialized. The boats are pulled across the river using a tight rope that is tied across the breadth of the river and anchored to wooden pillars on both sides.
“We have been promised the bridge since Indira Gandhi’s time. Yet, in 2019, farmers have to cross the river daily to reach their farms and ship their produce. When the river swells during monsoon, all our fields go under water and we lose the entire crop,” said Bhagwant Singh, a farmer, as he points towards his fields across the river, even as a group of people cross the river on boat loaded with motorcycles.
Bhagwant Singh is among dozens of farmers who have similar stories to narrate of the poor support they get from the government. Adding to their woes is the increasing farm loans, low support prices and long queues outside agricultural markets to sell their harvest to the government agencies.
“I along with several others farmers have been standing outside the mandi for the last eight to ten days to sell wheat but we don’t know when we’ll get the chance. There is no system in place to collect wheat. With bad weather threatening, there are chances that our stock could get soaked and wasted. There has been no succour for the problems faced by farmers despite the fact that we feed the entire nation,” said Balkar Singh, a farmer at Gobindgarh mandi.