Chandigarh, Sep 23 (IANS) With angry farmers blaming the government for poor quality pesticides which led to white-fly pest attack on the cotton crop in Punjab, state Agriculture Minister Tota Singh admitted on Wednesday that 30 percent of the area under cotton cultivation had been affected.
“As much as 1.36 lakh hectares (30 percent) out of 4.5 lakh hectares of area was affected by pest attack,” Tota Singh told the assembly during its monsoon session here.
Under fire from farmers and opposition leaders over the agriculture department’s role in purchase and distribution of poor quality pesticide, Tota Singh refuted the charge that the entire damage caused to cotton crop due to spurious quality of pesticides.
“Out of total 11.25 lakh hectares of area sown under cotton crop, 92,167 hectares (10-15 percent) was covered under the pesticides purchased by the agriculture department, whereas in the remaining 85-90 percent area, pesticides were purchased by the farmers at their own level,” he claimed.
He said that the crop affected by the pest in neighbouring Haryana and Rajasthan was much higher than Punjab.
The minister said that he immediately ordered an enquiry to ascertain the quality of pesticides and rules followed for their purchase. He said that he had also ordered withholding payment to the suppliers.
“During a special drive to check the quality of these pesticides (launched from April 1 to September 20), 1,984 samples of various pesticides were taken, of which 59 had failed,” the minister said, adding that his name was unnecessarily being dragged by the opposition in the controversial purchase of pesticides.
Noting that the damage caused to cotton due to white fly could not be merely attributed to spurious quality of pesticides purchased by his department, he said that the substantial damage caused to cotton crop in the Malwa belt due to pest attack was a “natural calamity”.
The state government had ordered a special ‘girdwari’ (revenue survey) to ascertain the damage to the cotton crop and losses suffered by farmers to compensate them, he added.