P U N J A B    S T O R I E S


PM seized of food insecurity problem
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 29
Two issues weighing the most at the moment on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s mind are with regard to food insecurity and the deteriorating condition of small farmers. He is spending a lot of time with agricultural experts to examine these issues.

During his visit to City Beautiful, Dr Manmohan Singh spent an hour with Dr G.S. Kalkat, Chairman of the Punjab Farmers Commission. The question Dr Manmohan Singh repeatedly raised at this meeting revolved around increasing the production of wheat and rice to cope with the rapidly rising demand for foodgrains in the country.

Asked about the meeting, Dr Kalkat told The Tribune that Dr Manmohan Singh wanted an increase of at least 10 million tonnes in wheat production in the next three years in the country. “He asked me what could be done in this regard at the earliest” said Dr Kalkat.

Owing to the dwindling buffer stocks of foodgrains and almost stagnant growth in the agricultural sector, the Union Government has placed an order to import 5.5 million tonnes of wheat. The experience of the Union Government with regard to the import of wheat is not a happy one. Poor quality wheat is being rushed to India. Large stocks of wheat have been held up at ports because of a high content of extraneous material in imported stocks of wheat, it is learnt. The production of wheat was far lower than estimated last year.

A similar situation can develop on the rice front in a year or two. The Union Government is expecting a quantum jump in the demand for wheat and rice in the days to come because of the launching of the employment guarantee scheme in 200 districts across the country. A part of money reaching the poor sections under this scheme will certainly be spent on buying foodgrains by the labour class.

Dr Kalkat has suggested to the Prime Minister to focus on Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar to enhance the food production, especially wheat and rice. In spite of the fact that the irrigated area in these states is as good as in Punjab, the per hectare yield is woefully low as compared to Punjab. These three states grow wheat on 15.25 million hectares against Punjab’s figure of only 3.4 million hectares. The average yield in Punjab is about 42 quintals per hectare whereas it is 28 quintals in Uttar Pradesh and 18 quintals each in Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.

The rice yield in Punjab is 37 quintals per hectare but it is only 22 quintals in Uttar Pradesh, 15 quintals in Bihar, 10 quintals in Madhya Pradesh and 15 quintals in Orissa. There is a potential to increase rice production by 10 million tonnes in Bihar, Orissa, UP and MP provided these states make efficient use of their water facilities. “I have suggested putting a system in place in these states for the efficient use of water for irrigation. Food production, which is highly dependent on the monsoon and other weather conditions, will go up in three years in case these states pay due attention to make optimum use of their irrigation facilities”, Dr Kalkat added. “The Prime Minister was convinced with what I said ”, he added. 


Rs 1.5 cr grant for upgrading Wagah post
Neeraj Bagga

Amritsar, September 29
With a view to enhancing surveillance and security the Ministry of Finance has sanctioned Rs 1.5 crore to install close-circuit cameras. It will also add more Customs counters at the Wagah joint checkpost.

The cameras would be installed within a couple of months to keep a watch on visitors using the land route for arrival and departure from Pakistan.

Mr D.P. Singh, Commissioner, Customs Department stated that these cameras would be installed at eight identified vulnerable points. These include east and west gates on zero line, joint checkpost, arrival and departure halls, cargo godowns, outside east gate and in godowns proposed for storage of export consignments.

Currently, the department has only one sniffer dog and it will get two more after two months. Presently these are undergoing training in Gwalior. These dogs are especially being trained for detecting narcotics.

Rites, a PSU of the Railways, is preparing a plan and a detail project estimate after taking into account infrastructure requirement of all agencies operating at the Wagah following directions from the Ministry of Home.

These measures have become necessary in view of the fact that volume of import and export and number of travellers have increased manifold in the past couple of years. The plan includes adding 25 acres for constructing cargo sheds, parking area for cargo trucks, separate roads for retreat ceremony and for cargo movement.

At present only a gate exists between the two neighbouring countries at the Wagah checkpost for import and export, and passage of travellers. The department feel that two more gates must be added soon thereby paving the way for separate movement of public, and import and export.

Rise in the volume of trade has made it necessary to add four more cargo godowns to the existing two. The Pakistan government has allowed import of livestock. However, this has led to the necessity of establishing an Animal quarantine near the checkpost.

The department has two x-ray machines and four more would be added to be installed in outgoing and incoming baggage halls and two at cargo sheds.


After farmers’ suicides, Lehra Gaga rides the self-empowerment wave
Aditi Tandon

Lehra Gaga (Sangrur), September 29
One has rarely witnessed such a gathering of women at one place at one time. But at Lehra Gaga this morning, it was the women’s show all the way. Amid loud cheers and frenzied political sloganeering inspired by the presence of Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, the suicide belt of Punjab rode the self-empowerment wave.

With 12,000 dalit women from Lehra and Andana blocks of Sangrur cheering her, the Union Minister for Women and Child Development, Ms Renuka Chowdhury, launched the first-ever micro credit financing movement in Punjab. Under this movement, the poorest of poor women will be encouraged to avail of RMK’s small loans at affordable interest rates and enough payback time. The nodal agency for RMK in Punjab will be Bisnauli Sarvodaya Gramodyog Sewa Sanstha (BSGSS), which has long worked in the area of livelihood management.

For once, the government announcement did not come as empty rhetoric. Soon after the announcement, Ms Chowdhury disbursed Rs 8 lakh of small loans to representatives of 25 women self-help groups from Sangrur. These women got loans to buy buffaloes and make a living by dairy activity. “The remaining loan out of the promised first installment of Rs 16 lakh will be given away after RMK conducts a post-sanction study of Rs 8 lakh given today,” said Ms Chowdhury, while admonishing women to save the girl child.

Although only a few poor women got loans today, RMK plans to expand its base to bring more women under its wings. The challenge for RMK, which has given Rs 190 crore of micro-credit since its inception in 1993, will be to cover those 12,000 dalit women who attended its launch function in Punjab today.

And though Ms Chowdhury made her promises, women sitting in the gathering remained apprehensive. They had been enduring heat and thirst just in the hope of getting a cheque. When it did not come, some were disappointed until told that they will be covered gradually.

Gurmit Kaur from Dele Siyaan, who has worked as a daily wager for decades, said: “I also want loans. I work for just Rs 40 a day.” Gunamo from Chhoti Rail village said something similar: “My husband killed himself two years ago after he failed to repay the moneylender’s debt. Now I have no land, no income. I also want loan.”

Every woman had a ray of hope in her eyes. Eight per cent of those in the mammoth gathering were dalits, subsisting below the poverty line. Some have not bought flour for months. Jeero Kaur from Bhai ke Pasaur village said: “I will take loan to buy flour and feed my family. My husband had some land but he killed himself five years ago,” she said.

For women like Jeero, RMK offers a solution. As Sneh Lata Kumar, Executive Director of RMK, says: “BSGSS will consolidate these women into self-help groups and get them to avail of our loans. Micro-credit is the best instrument for women’s empowerment. We also plan to take these women for field visits to Himachal where SHGs are using our loans for food processing, vermin composting, tailoring and other trades.”

Mr Vijay Kumar Jha and Ms Nandita Bakshi from BSGSS also promised to put their best foot forward. They have been working with women in 72 villages of Sangrur and have been training them in food processing and vermin composting.

Apart from economically empowering poor women, the movement also has a potential to address social problems like female foeticide and drug and substance abuse in Punjab. BSGSS has already been using its medical intervention facilities to make people aware of the consequences of social evils like infanticide and feoticide. The plan is to turn the destiny of Punjab’s rural heartland around. And the tool at hand is micro credit -- whose current demand in India in informal sector is Rs 65000 crore.


Package likely on PM’s next visit, says Dullo
Tribune News Service

Amritsar, September 29
Sounding a note of warning, the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) chief, Mr Shamsher Singh Dullo, has said indiscipline won’t be tolerated in the party at any cost and party tickets will be distributed on the basis of performance.

Talking to mediapersons after launching an anti-drug campaign here today, Mr Dullo said the party would deny tickets to leaders found guilty of encouraging drug smuggling.

Mr Dullo agreed that there were some “black sheep” in bureaucracy who need to be handled firmly to stop drug pedalling in the state. Without mincing words, Mr Dullo said there were big sharks who need to be brought to book to make the anti-drug campaign a great success.

The PPCC chief said he had already taken up the matter with the Chief Minister to break the nexus of police-politician-smugglers to ensure a statewide campaign against the drug menace. He said Pakistan was waging a proxy war by sending narcotics in India through Punjab border.

He asked the media and NGOs to keep a vigil on drug pedalling so that youths could be saved from it. He also urged leaders of various parties to extend their help in the campaign, rising above the party affiliations .

To a question, Mr Dullo gave full marks to Capt Amarinder Singh and claimed that the Congress would form the next government too.

Answering yet another question, Mr Dullo said the Prime Minister might announce a good package during his next visit to the state after going through the memorandum submitted to him, highlighting the teething problems of the border belt. He said the memorandum of the PPCC submitted to the Prime Minister included problems being faced by farmers who had land across the fencing along Pakistan.

He said the PPCC had urged the Prime Minister to mitigate their problems. The Prime Minister might consider the demand to extend the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme to Bathinda, Sangrur and all four border districts, Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur and Ferozepur.

Another point that the PM might include in his proposed package to Punjab was to grant tax benefits to the industry on the pattern of adjoining hilly state of Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal and J&K.


Shanta decries UPA govt
Our Correspondent

Hoshiarpur, September 29
Mr Shanta Kumar, national vice-president of the BJP, criticised the Congress-led UPA government for chaos in the country and alleged that it had failed on all fronts. Political corruption and price hike of essential commodities had increased problems of the country.

He was talking to media persons at the residence of Mr Vijay Aggarwal, President of the district unit of the BJP, here this afternoon.

He said it was the decision of the UPA government to restart reciting of Vande Mataram song in all institutions, but it backed out from its decision due to lack of determination and politics of votes. Vande Mataram was not a song of a particular religion or community, it is a national song which inspired people to jump into the freedom struggle of the country. The BJP has started a campaign to create awareness among people to restart its reciting for national unity.

He condemned constituents of the UPA government especially the Congress for its weak policies. He said that more than three crore foreigners majority of whom were Bangladesh nationals had been settled in the country unauthorizedly. They had made the country like a ‘Dharmasala’ where anyone could stay without verification of identity. 


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