Among the many eminent citizens, especially from north India, who have offered to or have already returned their awards in solidarity with farmers protesting against the three new farm laws along the border of Delhi, is a 28-year-old sarpanch from Moga.
Preetinderpal Singh of Ran Singh Kalan village in Moga’s Nihal Singh wala tehsil was awarded the Nanaji Deshmukh Rashtriya Gaurav Gram Sabha Puruskar, carrying a cash prize of Rs 10 lakh, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on April 14 this year.
In August, he received Deen Dayal Upadhyay Panchayat Sashaktikaran Puruskar from Union Minister of Panchayati Narendra Singh Tomar.
Singh has now sought time with Tomar, who is also the agriculture minister, to return the award citations and Rs 18 lakh received along with them.
At the tender age of 18, Singh, also known as Mintu Sarpanch locally, had returned from Canada in 2010 with a mission to transform his village into as beautiful as the nation he came back from. “Ten years ago, when I saw how farming was done in Canada, their distribution system, cleanliness, I decided to make my village as beautiful.”
“Development of our villages has always been limited to the narrow definition of fixing drains and streets. All grants are also directed towards such basics only,” says Singh. One can see the marked difference this youth has been able to achieve to turn the village into a self-sustaining one.
But what was he doing at the farmers’ protest in Delhi? “I did not want people of my country to think that Punjabis love money. I am doing this for my country and our farmers,” said the young sarpanch.
Farming issues cannot be dealt with by people who are not aware of the reality. “It is a much larger issue. A panel of all stakeholders should have been involved in formulating such laws. Punjab is faced with tragedies where fathers and sons have hanged themselves from the same tree because of debt.”
“When I heard about eminent names returning their titles and awards, I thought people of my country should not think Punjabis care more about money. Being a son of Punjab I thought of returning cash awards as well.”
When asked about the transformation he brought about in the village, Singh said he first focussed on closing open drains and laying sewage system. “Then wanted to turn the dirty village pond into a clean lake like the Sukhna in Chandigarh. We set up a treatment plant for the same which now supplies clean irrigation water for 100 acres of farm land.”
Regarding putting up a dinosaur statue in middle of the lake, Singh said it is to remind people if they do not conserve every drop of water, humans may also vanish like the dinosaur.
To rid the village of plastic, he launched a scheme to give sugar, jiggery, wheat, khand, rice in exchange for plastic waste. “We also contributed to by happy seeders worth Rs 5 lakh to stop farmers from burning stubble by proving them machines as well as Rs 500 per acre. There has been no farm fire in the village in the last two years. “We also started a health insurance scheme for which we pooled in Rs 5 crore.”