| Bachatar Singh at the Indo-Pak border in Daoke. Picture by Nishit Dholabhai
Daoke (Indo-Pak border in Punjab), Nov. 20: Floodlights help border police, but hurt farmers in this Basmati belt.
Wherever paddy fields are exposed to halogen lights that illuminate the fenced Indo-Pak border, the yield has fallen.
“I have 22 acres of land, all with a good Basmati crop, but floodlighting has ruined several acres, as you can see from the colour,” said Bachatar Singh, pointing to a pale yellow patch amid green fields.
Singh, a resident of Daoke village on the border, has noticed for several years that the crop colour changes in the patch that is directly exposed to the halogen light. This year, the exposed crop hasn’t borne seed.
BSF additional deputy inspector-general S.A. Khader, who was touring the village about 20km from Amritsar, heard out his complaint and said the Border Security Force would call in scientists for help.
Farmers in other villages along Punjab’s 553km border with Pakistan have made similar complaints to their local BSF outposts. The lights were put up in the 1980s to help check infiltration, and the force claims this is the first time they are hearing of the problem.
But with the government deciding to floodlight the entire 4,095km Indo-Bangladesh border to prevent infiltration, the complaint can hardly be ignored. The Bangladesh border runs through the fertile rice belt of Bengal and Assam.
Sources said Pakistan has objected to the light falling on its side of the border.
Pending detailed research, scientists offer two possible reasons for the fall in yield: over-exposure to light or attacks by pests attracted by the artificial light.
“Some pests are attracted to light, and since we do not have any resistant variety in Basmati, it makes the plant susceptible,” said Dinesh Garg, principal scientist at the National Institute of Integrated Pest Management, New Delhi.
Scientists at the Central Rice Research Institute in Cuttack said this was possible.
However, overexposure to light or “heat injury” is not being ruled out either.
Leaves are scorched by overexposure to light and this could affect growth, said P.S. Deshmukh, the head of plant physiology at the Indian Institute of Agricultural Research, New Delhi.
Deshmukh added that since the Bangladesh border sees more cloudy days, agriculture might not suffer from overexposure to light like it has in Punjab.
The long-grained rice famed for its aroma is one of India’s fastest-growing export items. Other than Punjab, it is grown in Haryana, Uttarakhand and Jammu. Pakistan also grows good quality Basmati rice.