AMRITSAR/FEROZEPUR: The menace of Pakistan's ISI-sponsored drone-dropping of drugs in the border villages has become a curse for farmers who have chunks of cultivable land across the barbed fence in Indian territory just a few metres short of theInternational Border (IB)with Pakistan.
A visit by this correspondent to the forward areas of the India-Pakistan border revealed that these farmers are not allowed to work in their fields once a drug-dropping drone is spotted or shot down by the BSF as the security forces launch search operations in the villages near the IB to nab drug smugglers that may continue for days.
Sarpanch Onkar Singh of Amritsar district's Galluwal village, situated half a kilometre from IB says after the drone activity, the BSF halts agricultural operations in the fields beyond the barbed fence.
The entry gates that otherwise remain open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in winter and 4 p.m. in summer, allowing permit-holding farmers to pass through to look after their crops, are kept shut when the search operations are on. This adversely affects crop output, he adds.
Ex-Sarpanch Makhan Singh of Raja Taal village, 300 metres from IB, discloses that his 4 acres of fertile land across the barbed fence get neglected when the entry gates are suddenly closed by the BSF.
The farmers are then asked to go back lock-stock and barrel with no intimation when the entry gates will open again. "We cannot irrigate our crops in time due to restrictions made effective after drone activity," says Makhan Singh. Raja Taal villagers have 185 acres of land across the fence.
Ex-Sarpanch Baldev Singh of Galluwal flags a problem with the annual compensation of Rs 10,000 per acre given by the Central Government to farmers owning land across the barbed fence on IB.
"We are not paid for years together, piling up arrears leading to litigation, as farmers move courts," he discloses. The tiresome litigation costs time and money.
The story on the Ferozepur border is no different. Sarpanch Jagir Singh of Hazara Singh Wala village maintains that the BSF stops agricultural activity for days across the fence when a "senior officer" from Jalandhar or Delhi is to visit the forward units of the force.
Mamdot block samiti member Harbans Singh makes a suggestion to help BSF build good relations with farmers. "As a majority of jawans who interact with farmers having land across the fence do not know Punjabi, misunderstandings crop up.
There have been occasions when farmers sat on dharnas due to language problems. At every entry gate, one Punjabi-speaking jawan needs to be posted," he emphasises.
As per practice, the BSF keeps a strict vigil on the farmers who go across the fence. The transit gates are manned by scores of jawans to search and frisk farmers on the way to and way back from their fields.
It consumes more than an hour per working day per family team of a farmer.
A senior BSF officer responsible for managing agricultural operations across the fence explains, "We have to be vigilant as some black sheep may get mixed up with the enemy to smuggle in weapons or drugs…we are to follow standard operating practices (SOPs) drafted by the Defence Ministry after a prolonged scientific study of behaviour and conduct of the border area cultivators," the officer points out.
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