No rain or water causes distress to Jammu farmersBy Binoo Joshi, IANS
Monday, April 19, 2010
SAMBA - Rajinder Singh Sambyal was a happy farmer till a year ago, but life is no longer good. Vast stretches of his wheat crop have been reduced to dry grass this year because of scanty rainfall which has hit most farmers in Jammu and Kashmir.
Rajinder’s wheat, sown in about 80 acres in the surroundings of Samba town, 40 km southwest of Jammu, hardly has any grain. He throws up his hands in helplessness, thinking of all the investment he put into his fields.
“There is absolutely nothing that I can hope to do with these fields,” said Rajinder, 52, who has a family of seven, including his aged parents, to look after.
This story is relayed from one village to another in the Jammu region, where the crops have failed for a second time in less than one year. The region lost its rabi (winter) crop, mostly rice. And now, the kharif or summer crop, mostly wheat, too, is lost.
The farmers of Samba depend mostly on rainfall for irrigation. To some extent, the waters of a local river, Basantar, help farmers in some places, but the water level has receded and the river bed widened.
“Every year more and more sandy parts of the river are visible; the water seems to have vanished. It is like a mini-stream now,” said Surinder Sharma, 46, another farmer.
In the Jammu region, normally the rains would arrive on time and farmers had no problems. And whenever there was scantly rainfall, they would dig tube wells and find water to irrigate their fields.
Till about five-seven years ago, ground water was available at 20 feet depth, now it is not found even below 150 feet. The cost of installing tube wells has thus escalated and become difficult to afford.
“The ground water level has descended too low because there has been no recharge of the water with rains, and the water level in the rivers too has gone down,” said Public Health and Engineering and Irrigation Minister Taj Mohi-ud-Din.
Water scarcity has made it a question of survival for farmers. “With the failure of two consecutive crops, we are facing multiple problems,” said Vijay Kumar Saini, a farmer in Vijaypur, 30 km southwest of Jammu. “There is no money left with us; we don’t have money for seeds, nor do we get any compensation from the government. How do we live, feed our families? This has become a challenge for us,” he said despairingly.
The failure of rains last summer and in winter has got the state agriculture department worried over the havoc it is causing across the state.
In Jammu and Kashmir 968,000 hectares of land is under cultivation. Of this, 384,000 hectares is in the Jammu region. The major crops are rice and maize during the kharif and wheat and oil seeds during the rabi season.
Almost 65 percent of the area is rain fed.
According to estimates prepared by the agriculture department, farmers in the Jammu region “lost about 80 percent of the kharif crop”.
“The rabi crop loss is about 60 to 70 percent, but an exact assessment is yet to be made. It may be more,” Agriculture Minister Ghulam Hassan Mir told IANS.
“The failure of rains has caused huge problems for farmers,” admitted Mir.
He also admitted that the depletion in water resources has compounded the problem for farmers.
The farmers fear it will get worse as the weather is getting warmer. The mercury has already started touching 36 degrees Celsius. With no water in sight and no money in their hands, they feel they will not be able to sow for the next season.
It is a desperate and distressing situation.
“We are becoming victims of the cruelty of nature and the indifference of the government,” Rajinder observed, summing up the mood in the farming community.
(Binoo Joshi can be contacted at email@example.com)