Parveen Kumar and his father late Roop Lal last cultivated their 12 acres of the land on the 'zero line' of the International Border (IB) in Chandra Chack village of Jammu and Kashmir’s Kathua way back in 2002.
Nineteen years later, when the now 48-year-old Kumar crossed the fence on his tractor accompanied by BSF jawans, he broke down. Kumar was remembering his late father, who for nearly two decades, could not visit his land.
“The moment I stepped on my land, I kissed it. I couldn’t stop the tears rolling down my cheeks. My father would always perform pooja of the land before tilling it. This year, I had to perform the ‘pooja’ alone,” Kumar, choking up and with tears in his eyes, said.
Around 34 farmers can cultivate their lands on the zero line of the IB in Hiranagar sector’s Chandra Chack village this year courtesy of a ceasefire agreement between the Director Generals of the Military Operations (DGsMOs) of India and Pakistan in February 2021.
As per the Indian government, just 664 ceasefire violations (CFVs) have been reported along the IB and LoC in Jammu and Kashmir in the first six months of 2021 compared to 5,133 CFVs in 2020.
The DGMOs of India and Pakistan have met on several occasions to defuse the tension but without any major success as Pakistan never respected the terms of ceasefire, authorities say.
“I think better sense has prevailed in Pakistan this time,” DIG BSF, SPS Sandhu said.
Asked whether the guns have fallen silent due to Pakistan shifting focus on Afghanistan, the top BSF officer said, “I can’t comment on that.”
‘BSF jawans prepared land for cultivation’
In Chandra Chack Village, Border Security Force (BSF) personnel worked relentlessly for several months and readied approximately 150 acres of land on the zero line for cultivation by clearing the bushes and wild grass grown over Indian territory.
“The use of a huge chunk of land for agricultural purposes after a gap of almost two decades of tension with Pakistan will hugely benefit our farmers and country’s economy, which is also the dream of our prime minister,” Sandhu said.
Another BSF officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said clearing the land will help the BSF keep a close eye on suspicious activities of the enemy.
‘Agriculture department convinced farmers’
Kumar — who is cultivating 12 acres of land and expecting to harvest more than 200 quintals of wheat only from the land grown over the zero line this year — said it was the agriculture department that convinced him and other farmers to cultivate their lands on the zero line.
“Farmers of our area were not ready to cross the fence as they were fearing that they would be targeted by the Pakistan Army. But the agriculture department officials held rounds of door-to-door meetings with the farmers to sensitize them about the ceasefire agreement, allay their fears gradually and finally convince them to turn their barren lands green again on the zero line,” Kumar said.
Rajesh Khajuria, the agriculture extension officer, Madin, who has been deployed on the Chandra Chack border to assist the farmers, said, “We succeeded in instilling confidence among the farmers by telling them about the ceasefire agreement between India and Pakistan.”
“We also encouraged the farmers by telling them that their lands were cultivated in 2020 as well by the BSF personnel without any damage to the jawans or their property.”
Farmers given free seed, fertilizer and tractors
According to Murari Lal Digra, the nodal officer, border sowing, farmers have been provided tractors, seed, fuel and fertilizer to encourage them to cultivate their lands on the zero line.
“Seed and fuel were given as per their requirements. As far as fertilizer is concerned, we provided 100 kilograms of urea, 66 kg of Dia and 33 kilogram of potash per hectare to the farmers,” Digra said.
141 out of 150 acres cultivated
Digra said that of the total 150 acres of land belonging to 35 farmers on the zero line in Chandra Chack Village, 141 acres of land belonging to 34 farmers has been cultivated. One farmer, who owns nine acres of land, refused to cultivate his land due to some dispute with other farmers, Digra added.
“The cultivation of the land and sowing of wheat on zero line in Chandra Chack Village started on 15 December. The entire land has been cultivated within a span of 13 days,” he added.
'Lost near and dear'
Sunder Lal, 62, son of Dewan Chand of Chandra Chack village, is among the 34 farmers who have been cultivating their lands on the zero line.
Lal — who owns four kanals of the land on zero line — gets emotional when he is asked to recall the last time he had sown wheat on his land.
Reminiscing about the past two decades, Lal said, “I’ve lost my dear ones and BSF jawans to the Pakistani firing and shelling. Some of our people who suffered injuries in the cross-border firing, have been living a miserable life.”
“These border skirmishes have never benefitted any country or individual. I wish the firing from the Pakistani side stops permanently so that people on either side live peacefully and cultivate their lands every year,” Lal said.