Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Assam Health Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma has been embroiled in another controversy after commenting that the state is under “chemical and biological attack” by a “section of farmers from the state’s Darrang district”, while addressing a public rally at Sivsagar on January 27.
He further alleged that the vegetable growers from the Kharupetia-Dalgaon belt falling within Darrang district, which is also known as the state’s vegetable hub, are responsible for the rise in kidney and liver diseases in the state.
Following the health minister’s comments, farmers in the region, a majority of whom hail from the minority community, have been left enraged. Alleging that they are being targeted ahead of the upcoming Assembly polls, the farmers also staged a protest against the minister and the state government on January 28.
The farmers demanded the government to take action on those selling fertilisers or pesticides or those using excessive fertilisers or pesticides to boost output, instead of targeting all farmers, as per a report in The Telegraph.
The report added that the farmers believe this to be an attempt to create polarisation against the Muslims of East Pakistan-origin who reside in the riverine areas of the state.
Expressing his umbrage against the health minister, Omar Ali, 38, a vegetable farmer from the region and the vice-president of a farmers’ association, told The Telegraph that they are being targetted for political reasons as the elections are near. He further said, “We are exporting vegetables to several countries and several states, within and outside the Northeast, as far as Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. We also consume the same vegetables we sell. We are not suffering from kidney or liver ailments,” adding that the ailments may be caused by other dietary habits, including alcohol consumption.
Also read: Why Are Assam’s Farmers Still Getting a Raw Deal
As per the report, the total vegetable production in 2020-21 in Darrang district, is more than 3 lakh metric tonnes. Extending over an area of 23,279 hectares, the region accounts for 18% of the state’s total produce, with three-four crops grown a year, according to official data. Not only that, the region also exports vegetables to Australia, Dubai and Nepal, the farmers claimed.
Himanta Biswa Sarma, who is reportedly infamous for his polarising remarks, had also targetted the fisheries at the launch of the Re-SVAYEM (Swami Vivekananda Assam Youth Empowerment) in Sivsagar, saying that they feed “something unimaginable to grow big fish… By eating these items, we Assamese are going to become sick”.
However, Omar Ali countered the minister’s claims saying that the farmers are forced to use the pesticides and fertilisers, even though within permissible limits, as they have no other option. While they use large quantities of farmyard manure as well, the farmer alleged that by highlighting the use of chemical fertilisers, the minister is trying to mislead the people.
Emphasising that the government should focus on creating awareness about the use of fertilisers, Nazir Sarkar, a teacher from Kharupetia College, told The Telegraph that the minister has targeted “the Miya community who make up more than half of the population in the region and that is not right”. He also questioned the government’s efforts on stopping the excessive use of chemical fertilisers.
The farmers are reportedly planning for another protest over the targetting of a particular community.