Damaged soil, ill-effects from pesticides, and falling water tables are the legacy of practices that were once thought great for the state.
01 February 2004 – When Indias Green Revolution started, Punjab had a pioneering role. Here was Indias northern state with its hardy farmers toiling to transform their fields into gold. They worked hard, experimented with new seeds and invested in fertilizers and pesticides. Punjab prospered and developed into the rice and wheat bowl of India. But now, in districts like Bhatinda, there is a new story playing out in the fields. The water table has collapsed, water bodies are poisoned with chemicals, the land has been degraded with excessive use of pesticides, and yields are falling.
Initially, Bhatinda was not the best of places to farm. After independence, it was just a part of the extended desert strip of Rajasthan. But with government help, farmers worked very hard ploughing the rocky land, dumping new top soil and then infusing it with fertilizers. The otherwise barren land sprang into life and it was soon a green carpet. Many years ago, a large number of farmers in Bhatinda district decided to move out from growing rice and wheat and shift to cotton as it was a cash crop with rich dividends.
All was fine till the cotton crop was introduced. The first few years were good and brought in good returns. But when the American bollworm attack came, the crop got destroyed. Panic stricken, the farmers guided by pesticide dealers, started pumping in huge amounts of pesticide. Initally, the pests died, but later on, year after year, the pest started developing immunity to pesticide sprays and continued to attack the cotton crop and destroy it. The pests developed immunity fast as pesticide was often adulterated. The body mechanism of the pest fought against the excessive spraying.
The Punjab Agriculture University at Ludhiana recommends only seven sprays on cotton in six months, but farmers in Bhatinda went in for as many as 32 sprays. Says Sardar Jarnail Singh, former sarpanch of Mandikhurd village in Bhatinda: There are cases where land has been left uncultivated as that is the only way to minimize the losses. Pesticide worth Rs. 8000 were normally used in one acre.