September 13, 2020

HARYANA: Severe Damage to Cotton Crop

Inderjit Singh

HOPES of cotton farmers of a bumper crop have been totally shattered within a span of just 10 days. The standing crop well at the stage of ball formation is badly ruined by white fly infestation in almost entire cotton growing areas of Haryana. Other Kharif crops like Guar (cluster bean), Moong (pulse) too have been hit. Guar is affected as an alternate host of white fly while Moong is affected by yellow mosaic virus of which white fly happens to be a carrier.

A total of 7.37 lakh hectares were sown with cotton crop which is almost 9 per cent more than last year. This is spread over at least ten, or half of the districts of the state, out of which it is one of the major crops in at least five districts along with paddy, bajra, pulses etc among the Kharif season. District wise breakup of cotton sown in hectares this season is: Sirsa 2.10 lakh, Fatehabad 0.72, Hisar 1.47, Bhiwani 0.88, Dadri 0.35, Jind 0.67 and Palwal 0.23. It is grown in Kaithal, Rohtak, parts of Jhajjar, Mahendergarh, Nuh also.

Sadly indeed the cotton crop is damaged at a stage when farmers had already made the entire investment in the form of inputs like seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, land rent and labour components.
State Kisan Sabha is the first to take initiative in organising cotton farmers of the affected areas and demanding special surveys for assessment of the losses. It constituted a team of experts and scientists to visit the fields and give report.

State president Phool Singh Sheokand who is himself a former Agriculture Development Officer accompanied by former Chief of Cotton section of the Haryana Agricultural University (HAU), Dr Rajbir Sangwan, former Chief Scientist of Entomology Dr Roshan Lal, former Sub Divisional Officer Dr Kartar Singh Siwach, visited several places on September 1 to verify the damage and talked to farmers. Later Dr Baljit Bhyan who had served as Horticulture Development Officer and who also runs Keet Pathshala to train the farmers in insect identification told that late and long spell of rains in the dry sandy soils were the first to affect leading to para wilting of cotton plants due to micronutrients seeping to the subsoil level resulting into un-aerobic condition around the root region of the plants. It made the plant prone to pest attack and leaves along with underdeveloped cotton balls got blighted. He also revealed that initially the traders, for their own profit, also misled the growers to spray a combination of pesticides though such combinations have proved really lethal. This time, farmers had to do the sowing twice or thrice perhaps due to spurious seeds  sold to them. 

The team of scientists told that the extent of damage was massive and was aggravating very fast every passing day.

On September 2, a massive dharna was staged at Hisar secretariat by the Kisan Sabha district committee which was also addressed by Phool Singh Sheokand among others. Bhiwani district committee has organised a mass demonstration on September 5. Fatehabad district similarly held a demonstration on September 4. Remaining districts too are actively taking up this issue of compensation.

A meeting of Kisan Sabha representatives from all cotton growing regions was being convened on September 7 at Hisar to chalk out coordinated actions.

The extent of financial loss is yet to be assessed but it is not going to be lesser than in 2015-16, that was to the tune of over a thousand crore rupees.

Cotton being one of the major Kharif cash crop in districts like Sirsa, Fatehabad, Hisar and Bhiwani, the cultivators are bound to be rendered badly bankrupt. A significant section of small and landless farmers are those who have livelihood subsistence by taking others land on annual contract.  The rates of contract are quite high and exorbitant in certain more fertile regions. The tenants have to pay the amount of rent in advance and the capital expenditure for the inputs has been already incurred as the cotton crop was ruined when it was almost reaching the maturity stage and so were the hopes of farmers. How the loans taken so far would be repaid is the moot question. Cotton as a cash crop had been associated with many other necessary family obligations waiting to be fulfilled around the Diwali festivities.

The crop was not only normal but bumper, well till two weeks ago. Alas everything blew away with widespread infestation within no time and the stranglehold of indebtedness for a vast section of peasantry is consequently bound to be tightened. So far, no word of any relief is heard either from the state government or from the insurance companies.

Let it be recalled that the premium for cotton was hugely enhanced by the insurance companies to the tune of more than  two and a half times this season ie, from Rs 620 to Rs 1650 per acre. Out of this, two per cent is to be contributed by the farmers and rest of it is the share from the state government and the centre. This exorbitant enhancement in premium amount, obviously with the approval of the government, has acted as a deterrent and discouraged many farmers to give their consent for insurance of their crop. Moreover , going by the past experience, how the companies would actually compensate the loss is again a big question. They say that only the damage due to hail storm and flooding can be compensated.  So it is the government’s responsibility to come to the rescue of farmers and agricultural labourers and prevail upon the private companies to give full compensation as it is they who have already earned huge amounts through premium. Agriculture labour too  are dependent on the cotton crop for their livelihood as the plucking is done mainly by them.

Keeping this factor in consideration, the situation demands that the struggle has to be carried towards forging the unity of farmers with agricultural workers.

The state government has often been found to have a tendency to project losses due to natural calamities, at the minimum. Therefore, the officers who carry out the special survey would prepare the reports showing the crop losses well below the mark that makes the compensation admissible. Even private insurance companies are found hobnobbing with revenue officers to manipulate the losses in order to escape payment of compensation to the farmers. The fresh instance here is the report sent by the Balsamand sub-tehsildar in Hisar in which he has interestingly shown a uniform10 per cent loss in all 19 villages of the block. So it is necessary that the peasantry is mobilised on the streets to counter the manipulative tendencies of the government and its administration.

All India Kisan Sabha has, in this situation, took an early initiative and it calls upon all kisan organisations to join hands and move ahead with the demand for objective and truthful survey conducted in  a transparent manner.

Actually the nature of the demand for compensation is not entirely a local phenomenon specific to Haryana alone as the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) is essentially a part of pro-corporate policies of Modi government that is hell bent on no-holds bar access for the corporates into agriculture sector. The three most deleterious ordinances promulgated recently are an all-out onslaught on the future of agriculture, jeopardising the national food security and rendering millions of peasants to pauperisation.