Cotton season: Agriculture department starts drive against whitefly amid staff crunch

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EVEN AS the state agricultural department has started its drive to control the whitefly pest that inflicted extensive damage to the cotton crop last season, shortage of staff in across Punjab is making their job difficult. As per the latest data from the agriculture department, 575 of the total 938 posts of Agricultural Development Officers (ADOs) are lying vacant across Punjab, with the state having no immediate plan to start the recruitment process.

A majority of these vacant posts lie in the cotton belt of Malwa, including Bathinda, Sri Muktsar Sahib and Mansa. While farmers had blamed spurious pesticides for the whitefly attack, Agriculture Minister Tota Singh and Punjab Agricultural University vice-chancellor BS Dhillon blamed the farmers for not being aware of the methods to be followed to save their crops. ADOs are field officers who are responsible for interacting with farmers at the ground level and pass on their queries to higher authorities.

They educate them about the right agricultural practices, provide them with samples of pesticides and fertilisers for testing, visit villages to keep an eye on the crop and press the alert button if symptoms of a disease are found. With the sowing season staring at their face, the agriculture department has started transferring ADOs from Ludhiana and Amritsar (where posts are filled) to the cotton belt of Malwa.

The officials, however, have been told that their transfers will be valid only till the cotton harvesting season, which ends in October. As many as 73 out of 223 sanctioned posts of Agriculture Officers (AOs) are also lying vacant across the state. As per the latest data collected by The Indian Express from the agriculture department, 31 out of 49 posts of ADOs in Bathinda are vacant. The situation is worse in Mansa where only 4 posts have been filled against 28 sanctioned.

In Muktsar, only 5 posts have been filled against 25 sanctioned posts. In Sangrur, out of the 35 sanctioned posts, 27 are lying vacant while in Fatehgarh Sahib 21 out of 26 posts are vacant. In Moga, 21 posts are vacant out of the 33 sanctioned posts. Speaking to The Indian Express, one of the ADOs said, “There is a separate marketing wing in our department which has 138 sanctioned posts. It is unbelievable that a state like Punjab, which is the bread basket of India, has 90 vacant posts in the marketing department which is responsible for educating farmers. They are also responsible for touring mandis and see that there is no discrepancy in procurement. This department exists only in papers as those 40 employed men are diverted to other works due to acute shortage.”

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