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Monday, March 28, 2016

Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh,India battles famine, schemes and packages fail to deliver

On the road from Banda to Chhatarpur near Basaura village hundreds of farmers are protesting after a hailstorm damaged their crop.

They block the road and don't allow four wheelers and bigger vehicles to pass through.

 As the car can't go through, one is forced to pillion ride on a motorcycle to get to the fields and see the damage.

The anger is not surprising at all as one travels through the villages and visits people's homes in Bundelkhand. But the sheer despair is hard to stomach.

"Hailstorm destroyed everything. Now we are getting compensation for last year's (2015) damage. Officials say pay Rs 3000 to get the compensation. 100% of the crop has been destroyed," says Gram Pradhan Jaikaran Rajput.

A woman Ram Kali tried to hang herself using a rope. Fortunately, her husband discovered her in the nick of time and her life has been saved. Acres upon acres of crop have been destroyed due to untimely hailstorm and villagers say no food was cooked in any of the homes on the day of the hailstorm.

Ram Kali had borrowed around Rs 60,000 to tend to her tomato crop. In about the fortnight the tomatoes would have started reddening. But the hailstorm destroyed the entire crop. She won't even get any compensation because she doesn't own the land she had invested in with such hope.

"Hailstorm destroyed the crop. I spent Rs 60,000 and now I don't have any money left with me. The rope I tried to hang myself with is kept there. I spent all the money on the crop and did not even give a proper meal to the children," she says.
"I was distraught. Their father would have looked after them. Where will I get the money from, how will I feed them," she adds looking towards her children

But Ghanshyam Rajput, who owns 9 bighas (about 7 acres) of land will get some relief. The hailstorm has destroyed part of his wheat, chana and lahi. But the extent of loss will be known only after a government survey.

According to the new norms even if 33% of his crop is damaged he stands to get Rs 13,000 per hectare and by the time the promised compensation reaches him, months, if not a year would have passed.

One of his and his wife Kusuma's main worries is how to keep their son Sevan in the private school he goes to. For now the school is letting the bright kid study without paying the fees.

"We dug wells, we did not employ labour, did not use electricity and now all is lost. My daughter is expecting. What will I give her," asks Kusuma Rajput.

Mahoba District Magistrate Veereshwar Singh says the government gives Rs 6,800 for non irrigated land, Rs 13,500 for irrigated land. The amount is fixed. It cannot compensate for the entire loss but the government gives a fixed rate."

Rain fed agriculture is very risky business. In 2015 after facing more than 40% rainfall deficit, Uttar Pradesh had declared 50 of the 75 districts drought hit and sought Rs 2058 crore in assistance from the Centre. But the state received Rs 1304 crore. But 2016 is the second consecutive year of poor rain.

The Uttar Pradesh government has suspended loan recovery for six months and is aggressively pushing the MNREGS. It is also implementing the National Food Security Act since January ahead of schedule where every family member that has a PDS card gets 5 kilo of rice or wheat per month.
While it is true that there is rice or wheat in many of the households, it is also true that there is little else. Chronic hunger is a fact that even district officials acknowledge.

 In 2014, 44 districts were drought hit. While there is little to show on the ground as relief or systemic solutions the Samajwadi Party government that runs Uttar Pradesh is advertising it's compassion for farmers and blaming the centre. Uttar Pradesh will elect a new Assembly in 2017

The drought is not just the failure of the monsoons; it is also because of the failure to conserve water when it does rain.

Baghein river is so dry that one can walk on the river bed. People are cultivating their crop and and there is also an illegal brick kiln. While it rained in Banda for two days, the river is not even being given a chance.

Children also play cricket on the river bed. There is a dry patch of land which used to be the Ken canal. One can only tell it is a canal from the bridge over it

The UPA-I government's Bundelkhand Package of Rs 7266 crore was announced with much fanfare in 2009. Divided between Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the money was meant to dig wells, create water conservation projects and build market yards. It was ambitious but like most large scale deployment of government resources it was also plagued by corruption

Taking note of the widespread agrarian crisis Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Fasal Bima Yojana (Crop Insurance Scheme) where farmers will have to pay 2% interest on Kharif and 1.5% on Rabi, But it is expected to be implemented only after April 2016 in Banda.

Lakhs migrate from Bundelkhand without hope or money

Most of the houses in Pachara village in Mahoba district of Uttar Pradesh are locked and entire families gone. Most of them left between four to six months ago, after the Kharif season failed. The next wave of exodus will begin after Holi.

Most of the houses that are locked belong to people who have less than five acres of land. Compensation for crop that was lost in 2013 and 2014 was received by villagers in only early 2016. People who are still in the village are sticking around for the compensation

People flock to escape villages that have run dry and where food is scarce. A couple and their three children, the youngest is less than a month old, are heading to Gurgaon in the NCR to find work on construction sites

The story of Bundelkhand's drought can be told from the railway stations in the region. Every traveller from the region has the same litany of tales - of when it rained; of how it didn't rain enough; of hailstorms; of wheat, arhar, jowar, rai, chana crops that failed one by one. They also point out how hand pumps do not work and ponds, wells and canals have run dry, how compensation does not reach on time, if it reaches at all and how the hostile city may offer food and a chance of survival.


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