Punjab farmers distressed by whitefly attack
Whitefly pest destroyed about two-thirds of standing crop in the Punjab-Malwa region. 15 farmers have committed suicide due to the crop failure. Pained farmers rejected the Rs.640 crore compensation and termed it as peanuts. Rs.150 crore worth subsidized pesticides had been used but failed to save the crops. Director of Agriculture Department along with several pesticide dealers have been arrested for selling spurious pesticides.
Cotton plantation in Punjab came under a major whitefly attack which is being touted as the worst in the past five years. Experts blamed humid weather conditions for the attack. State government deputed a team to give a report on the impact of whitefly. Whitefly sucks sap from the leaves of cotton, thus hitting the growth of the plant.
Whitefly was visible on other crops such as guar and sugarcane, but it damaged only cotton.
Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal announced the disbursement of Rs.600 crore aid after facing severe criticism for paying meagre compensation to the affected farmers. Around 1.36 lakh hectares of area out of 4.50 lakh hectares has suffered extensive damage due to Whitefly. Badal claimed his government was pro-farmers and had provided free power worth Rs.28000 crore over the last 8 years.
Punjab Congress President Partap Singh Bajwa demanded arrest of agriculture minister Tota Singh over the alleged pesticide scam wherein spurious pesticides were given to farmers. This led to a loss of about Rs.5,000 crore to the state. He demanded Rs.40000 per acre as compensation for the farmers while the punjab government has provided only Rs. 8000 per acre to the farmers who suffered losses.
Farmers blocked railway tracks causing 12 trains to be diverted and 4 others to be cancelled. They accused the government of providing low quality pesticides and are demanding appropriate compensation. Eight farmer organizations plan to block the railway tracks in order to intensify the movement. The farmers' agitation got support from some local NGOs who cleaned up the surroundings of protest site.
Rs. 4200 crore is the estimated loss to the farmers due to whitefly attack so far. Also, 8,30,855 acres of cotton crop has been destroyed due to the pest attacks.