“WHEN THE FARMER WHO GROWS THE GRAIN LOSES PRIVILEGE TO EVEN EARN TO LIGHT HIS CHULLAH, CAN YOU EXPECT HIM TO THINK OF YOUR WELL BEING?” ASKS KARAMJIT SINGH , A LUDHIANA-BASED FARMER
Shamsher Chandel, The Hush Post
Ludhiana: Is this smog, which has engulfed Delhi and Punjab, the smog without the idiomatic fire? A farmer answers the query by referring to his own plight before you accuse him of being responsible for smog and subsequent pollution. “When the farmer who grows the grain loses the privilege to even earn enough to light the fireplace in his household, how do you expect him to think of your well-being?” says Karamjit Singh, a farmer of Khasi Kalan village in Ludhiana, alluding that there is a link between the present smog and the perennially debt-ridden farmer of Punjab.
“More than 1,600 of us have ended our lives because we get severely underpaid for growing the food that you survive on. Those deaths did not worry shaharwallas like you.” He adds, even today you are facing the same problem with a different name, he tries to explain, “In fact, the noose that choked us was different than what is choking you. Our farmers were being consumed with debt and they started hanging themselves. That didn’t bother you. Now you are being choked by the bad air and you are making noise.” In fact, most of the farmers don’t think of it as a life and death issue. They sleep in the villages engulfed in the midst of this smog. A poor Punjab farmer invariably draws the comparison between smog and suicide. And he laugh when asked if smog is an issue. “Yes, it is, but not a quarter as much as debt-ridden farmers’ suicide is about which no one talks in the media.”
Davinder Singh, another farmer from Payal, a sub-urb of Ludhiana, aptly relates Karamjit’s point by asking another question in a philosophical tone through an Urdu couplet, “Hum aah bhi karte hain to ho jaate hain badnaam, woh qatal bhi karte hain to charcha bhi nahi hota,” relating deaths of farmers under debt to ‘qatal’ and wondering whether you can equate death with issues like cough and allergy. Sitting at the edge of the road pointing towards the fast-paced traffic on the national highway, another farmer Jagtar Singh from Shalobheni village asks, “Even though smog is caused equally by pollution from industries, construction work, and transportation, will you stop using diesel vehicles? After all throughout the year they are a major cause of pollution.” Seeking an affirmation, he laughs off the issue, “Saanu ta kuch ni hunda dhuen naal, sadda pind khetaan de kol hi hai, tusi bade sohal hon.” (the stubble burning doesn’t affect us even though we live near the farms so how come it has started killing you?).
Endorsing the same point, Saudagar Singh Ghudani, the Bharatiya Kisan Union district president of Ludhiana, says, “Industry is responsible for 50 per cent pollution followed by the fuel used for transport, particularly, diesel. We only contribute in this season and it is eight per cent. Even that will stop if the government supports us.” He adds, “You cannot expect a farmer to spend Rs 6,000 per acre for disposing off the stubble at the time when he is already under debt.” Balbir Singh Rajewal, a leader of Bharatiya Kisan Union-Rajewal faction says, the least the government will have to do is increase the MSP to a respectable amount, where per quintal a farmer has enough to dispose-off the stubble, short of it, there is no solution. Parmod Kumar of the Institute for Development and Communication (IDC) says, the government does not have the agriculture policy in place. There is no vision to raise the income of the farmer. The Punjab farmers are suffering due to the complacency of the policy makers. The approach is compensatory – after floods each time there is relief distributed, after stubble burning we raise this issue and then go quiet after the issue has subsided.”