We were on the other side of the highway from Gate 2 of Punjab Agriculture University – a motley crowd of around 250 persons, including some ex-employees of PAU, a few scientists of PAU, famous singers like Manmohan Waris, Dr Inderjit Kaur of Pingalwara Society, Prof Jagmohan Singh (grand nephew of Bhagat Singh), Sant Sukhjit Singh Seechewal, Dr Arun Mittra of Doctors for Peace & Development, Umendra Dutt of Kheti Virasat Mission, senior media representatives etc. When the Yatris came in and went straight to the stage to shout slogans like “PAU Dhokha Hai, Dhakka Maaro Mauka Hai”, “PAU Band Karo” etc., there was much unease in the students and others who had come from PAU, some in support of the Kisan Swaraj Yatra cause and some out of curiosity to understand what the protest against PAU was all about. We had to explain that PAU in any case will become irrelevant if they don’t stop the monopolistic onslaught of corporations like Monsanto – how many takers are there for the hybrid maize varieties that have been released by public sector bodies in the country so far and how come Monsanto holds a huge chunk of the hybrid maize seed market today? “What is the point in taxpayers supporting universities like PAU when their technologies either destroy the environment and make our food toxic, or find no takers ultimately amongst farmers”, we argued. If PAU does not reform itself, does not look back and draw up a balance sheet of where it went wrong with its ‘Green Revolution technologies’ which ended up providing huge markets to big corporations while the very productive base of farmers got eroded, if it does not draw lessons for the future, if it does not realize that the sustainability lens has to be applied while deploying any technology, then it is obvious that it is anti-farmer and anti-Nature, we argued. What about the fact that universities like PAU are after all located not in a vacuum but situated in society and have to follow what people are saying – isn’t that what democracy is all about?
Earlier, Rajbir Singh of All India Pingalwara Society, which has very successfully adopted the principles and practices of Zero Budget Natural Farming propagated by Shri Subhash Palekar, threw a challenge at PAU from the high stage. He said that he would like to see any plot in PAU or anywhere following PAU’s recommendations look as good as his farm which has been converted into a ‘natural farm’ or yield such healthy plants or produce. He threw a challenge on the economics of his farm and PAU plots.
The first event of the day was an interaction with the citizens of Khanna mandi. Here, we met with a retired Senior Entomologist of PAU who exhorted Punjabi farmers to shift to natural farming and save themselves and their environment. He said that the recommendations of several pesticides was indiscriminate and that the government has no mechanisms by which it can stop injudicious use of such toxic chemicals.
The last event of the day was at Dhudike, the historical village which was the birth place of Lala Lajpat Rai and several other revolutionaries who sacrificed their lives for gaining independence for this nation. It was a cold, slightly-foggy evening and soon, we shifted to a warmer location and had an interactive session with the farmers. The issue of irrigation water for this area cropped up and we moved on to talking about groundwater utilization, water-intensive crops and practices. It was a surprise to hear that not a single farmer here has even heard about SRI methods. The effectiveness of the one-sided indoctrination of the mainstream agricultural establishment and corporations was very apparent in this one example.
The issue of farm indebtedness, crop pricing etc., were also discussed in detail here. One Mr Hakam Singh shared his experience of contract farming with PepsiCo for Basmati rice. Though the agreement was for Pepsi to procure the rice from him at Rs. 2200/- per quintal, the company paid him only Rs. 1500/-, he informed.
An agriculture scientist present in the meeting pointed out that we also need to look into issues of agricultural workers since the ones who are committing suicides are not just farmers but also agri workers, who are also involved in tenant-farming.
Umendra Dutt explained at length how the markets of seed and agriculture are being eyed by big corporations. He said that the profits to be made from royalties on “roti” (our food) would be far higher than the royalties that Bill Gates earned on his way to becoming the richest man on Earth.
He also shared with everyone that all American leaders, including George Bush and then the Secretary of State whose domain was foreign policy mainly, are eyeing our agri-resources and that is the reason why they make repeated visits to our agri-universities and seed banks.
The message of the Kisan Swaraj Yatra was very well received here, overall, and the farmers resolved to make changes in their farming.
We then went to Tallewal village to spend the night in the Gurudwara there.