Saturday, April 13, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Mines dampen Baisakhi spirit
Varinder Walia

Indo-Pak border, April 12
The fresh aroma of wheat emanating from the mineloaded fields does not bring cheers on the faces of farmers in the border belt comprising Amritsar, Gurdaspur and Ferozepore.

For them Baisakhi is not an occasion to celebrate because they cannot harvest their crop across the ‘danger line’, earmarked for mines. The farmers who had sowed the wheat crop with great pains see the ‘glittering gold’ with disappointment. What is worse, the respective district administrations have failed to distribute compensation due to procedural hassles.

A visit to the border belt revealed that notwithstanding the tall claims of the Army and the state government, many farmers could not go to their respective houses as approach roads stand sealed by the Army. Frustrated over the delay in the distribution of compensation for the mined fields, a farmer in Amritsar district died due to a massive heart attack.

The farmers have been facing a great danger to their life and property as they apprehend that the mines could be blown any moment if a stray cattle steps on them. Such a situation could lead to engulfing of the standing wheat crop in fire. Apprehending such mishaps, many farmers have resorted to harvesting of unripe wheat. The owners of multi-purpose harvesting combines shirk from sending the machines in border belt as they fear some mishap. The strength of migrant labour which used to throng the border belt has decreased drastically.

A resident of Mahuwa (Amritsar) village, Mr Ajit Singh (61) whose 18-acre land had become inaccessible due to laying of mines died of a severe heart attack recently. Before the heart attack, he (Ajit Singh) had been going from pillar to post to get the compensation, but to no avail. His widow, Mango, and other relatives, including Harmeet Kaur, Mukhtiar Singh and Santokh Singh, alleged that Ajit Singh died as he was under the burden of paying back the debt which he had got from the arhtiyas (commission agents) for sowing the wheat which he failed to reap due to laying of mines. At least 18 persons, including Army jawans and civilians, had died in this village due to mine blasts in January this year.

A casual visit to the border belt reveals that the signboards (which read “danger”) hang on both sides of the Attari-Khemkaran road. Though on the repeated requests of the affected people, the Army jawans had opened the approach roads to the farmhouses by clearing mines yet there are many farmers who could not visit their deras (farm houses) for the past four months since the deployment of mines. Mr Major Singh, a resident of Rajatal, alleged that the Army did not allow him to go to his house which is a mine-infested area. He owns 35 acres and most of the land has been mined. He said his entire family lived at Chhehrta, near Amritsar, on rented accommodation. Though he could see the glittering gold (wheat) on his entire land, he had to purchase wheat and ‘atta’ from the market as he could not bring the stored stock from his house.

The farmers said they won’t be able to sow paddy in the coming season even if the mines were cleared from their fields. They said no senior leader of the state government had visited them to listen to their grievances.

When a TNS team visited Daoke village, which is surrounded by Pakistan from three sides, the villagers complained that many farmers, who had shifted to safer areas after the heightened tension in the region, could not return to their houses as their fields have been mined by the Army. Mr Tarsem Singh, a resident of the village, said mines were laid in at least 300 acres of Daoke. The situation in Roranwali, Naushehra Dhalla, Pakka, Khemkarn sector, Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur and Fazilka in Ferozepore is no better. The affected people alleged that they did not have sufficient money to give the school fees of their children. Mr Som Lal, Naib Tehsildar, Attari, admitted that not even a single affected person whose land had been mined could be given compensation so far. He, however, said that girdawaris had been completed, copies of which had been handed over to Estate Officer of the Defence. After checking of the girdawaris, compensation would be given, he said.Back

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