Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > June 02, 2007 > Hunger, Thirst and Indebtedness—Bundelkhand’s Deepening Agro-Ecological (...)

Mainstream, Vol XLV No 24

Hunger, Thirst and Indebtedness—Bundelkhand’s Deepening Agro-Ecological Crisis

Saturday 2 June 2007, by Bharat Dogra

A CONSOLIDATED REPORT OF FOUR BLOCKS

In recent times mass distress of the people in Bundelkhand region (Uttar Pradesh), as manifested in alarming levels of hunger and malnutrition, water shortages and indebtedness, has attracted attention at the national level. To form a better understanding of this crisis Action Aid conducted a study in April in this region as a part of its Hunger Monitor Project. This study was conducted with the help and cooperation of voluntary organisations Parmarth Akhil Bhartiya Samaj Seva Sansthaan and Vidya Dham Samiti by journalist and researcher Bharat Dogra in four blocks—Madhogarh and Rampura (Jalaun district), Manikpur (Chitrakut district) and Naraini (Banda district). About 13 villages were visited to hold detailed discussions with people and in addition several knowledgeable persons were contacted separately. The following main conclusions have emerged from this study. —Editor

Adverse Changes In Weather

ALL the people contacted by us agreed that particularly in the last four to five years there have been significant changes in weather patterns which have adversely affected farmers and farming. Comparing the last four-five years with the situation 25 to 30 years earlier, people say that rainfall has decreased, the number of rainy days has decreased, rain tends to be concentrated in a smaller number of days, cases of untimely rain are more common (frequently harming farmers instead of helping them). The damage caused by hailstorms, frost and storms has increased. This year in Jalaun a storm blew away the harvested wheat of several farmers.

At some places as in Naugawan village rainfall was so confined that a part of the same village witnessed rainfall while another part remained dry. Even if normal (total) rainfall is recorded, its uneven and untimely distribution in the year can play havoc with farmers and farming. These changes in weather should be seen as a part of the larger process of climate change and the administration should be prepared to cope with an emergency situation. However the administration has not yet geared up to meet this emerging serious challenge and appears to be functioning in the old groove.

Crop-Loss

CROP loss, particularly in the last year, was serious enough for all the areas covered in this study to be declared drought affected. However, Jalaun district has not been declared drought-affected. Banda and Chitrakut districts were declared to be drought-affected but this declaration was not accompanied by any significant relief to people. In several villages the percentage of loss suffered by small farmers is higher due to their low resource base and denial of irrigation.

Many small farmers said—“Our crop is totally ruined”, “We didn’t even plant the second crop” and quite frequently we heard them say, “We didn’t even recover the seeds that were sown.” In such a situation some families complained that even in the month of crop harvest they hardly have any stock of grain.

Growing Dependence on Migrant Labour

IN almost all villages people told us that they are heavily dependent on migrant labour for sheer survival. If we don’t migrate, we won’t survive, they said. In various villages visited by us 80 per cent to 100 per cent of the families migrate. While a few get mining/quarrying work not too far from their villages, most others have to travel to far away Delhi, Mumbai, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana. The most common work is mining and quarrying, brick kilns and construction work. Many of them take an advance before leaving which is later deducted from their wages. In most cases men migrate, but in some cases women and children also go with them. In some cases the entire household including even farm animals are leaving.

After more than a year of the arrival of the rural employment guarantee scheme in these areas, migration continues as before. In villages like Ragauli Bhatpura (Naraini Block) acute drinking water-shortage has emerged as an additional reason for migration. Some migrant workers cannot be traced for a long time while some are caught in bonded labour. Recently ABSSS helped to rescue some migrants from bondage in Meerut district.

Shocking Malnutrition

ONE question we asked was: how many people get adequate nutritionally balanced food (adequate amounts of grain, pulses, vegetables, with some milk and ghee)? We were told that in Naraini and Manikpur blocks only five per cent can access such food, while in Madhogarh and Rampura blocks 10 to 15 per cent people can access it. In some hamlets of Kol tribals and in Ragauli village people said bluntly that even one per cent people don’t get such food. Availability of pulses, vegetables and milk has declined. Even when dairy animals are owned milk is generally sold to market due to pressing cash needs. While chhaach (milk minus fat content) was available even to the poor, higher sale of liquid milk has badly eroded the availability of this important source of proteins to the poor. These levels of malnutrition reflect the situation in a bad year such as exists now. The situation will be better in a good agriculture year.

Hunger is a Reality

ANOTHER question we asked was: are there any families in your area who can’t afford to fill their stomachs even with nutritionally poor diet like roti-chatni or roti-namak (dry chapatti with salt, or a paste of salt-chilly-onion)? In Madhogarh, and Rampura blocks (Jalaun district) and in Manikpur block (Chitrakut district) we were told that about 25 per cent families suffer from hunger in this form while in Naraini block (Banda district) the percentage of hungry people was even higher. Hunger is worse from July-August to September-October and again during January-February. In Manikpur adverse weather conditions have also reduced the availability of minor produce like mahuwa, chiraunji and amwla which otherwise are a good source of nutrition to people.

Worsening Shortage of Water

IN Jalaun district despite the fall in water table a water-intensive crop menthe has been promoted in a big way. Madhogarh and Rampura blocks were known far and wide for their artesian wells, but most of these have dried up in recent years. In Manikpur block already there is severe water shortage in several villages. In Masnaha village several persons are falling ill due to shortage of clean water. Knowledgeable local people said that at the peak of summer about 60 per cent of the hamlets in Manikpur block are likely to suffer from water shortages and about 30 per cent from serious shortages. In Ragauli Bhatpura village women begin to queue up right from 3 am at night.

Somehow procuring water has become the main work for many families living here. Only one well and one hand-pump are serving a village of 200 families (the rest have dried up) and even these don’t have sufficient water. If these too dry up before June where will the villagers go? Already farm/dairy animals deaths have been reported from some places due to thirst. In Ragauli the famous Maharajpur tank has been reduced to a muddy pool in which animals are caught and die. Some animal deaths due to thirst have taken place here. However on the positive side, the work done by ABSSS in Tikariya panchayat and by Parmarth in Mingni Panchayat for water conservation as well as some other such works taken up by these organisations have shown that low-cost solutions are available for reducing water-scarcity.

Fodder-Shortage

FODDER prices have been increasing rapidly making it difficult for poor farmers to support farm animals. It is strange that in a situation of fodder shortage in Jalaun district combine harvesters which do not save bhusa or dry fodder have been allowed to rapidly increase their area of work.

Irrigation Constraints

IN villages people said that their most pressing need is for irrigation. However, tanks have been encroached upon or neglected, and canal network needs cleaning up and repairs. Unfortunately the possibilities of utilising employment guarantee scheme for increasing irrigation availability particularly for small farmers have not been utilised. There are many possibilities like repair and regeneration of tanks, check dams, utilising river water in villages located near river, lift-irrigation and overall regeneration of traditional irrigation sources. One guiding principle should be that you cannot go on extracting water without recharging it.

Indebtedness is Increasing Fast

WE were informed in almost all the villages that indebtness of most rural households is increasing at a fast pace. This included indebtedness to banks as well as private moneylenders or sahukars. In some villages people said that here almost all families are indebted. In Naugawan village (Naraini block) villagers said that many families are indebted in the range of Rs 1 lakh to Rs 3 lakhs. In Ragauli Bhatpura village people said that all families are indebted to the extent of Rs 10,000 to Rs 2 lakhs. Many families receive bank notices for recovery of loan, while some have even been locked up in tehsil jails in highly distressing and humiliating conditions.

Some have lost farm animals to money-lenders (who lend at the rate of Rs 3 to 5 per month or even higher) while some have to sell their crops cheap to them and some have to work as bonded workers for them. About 35 per cent to 45 per cent of the land of Ragauli Bhatpur village has already been sold to landowners from outside this village. Distressed people keep wondering how they will ever pay back these debts particularly keeping in view the poor crops of recent times.

A Threat to the Very Survival of Villages

KEEPING in view the high levels of debts, the severe water-storage and the heavy dependence on migration, it is no exaggeration to say that the very survival of some villages is threatened.

Such disturbing questions inevitably arise after observing the present condition of villages like Ragauli and Naugawan (Naraini block). But till just about two decades back they were known for their prosperous farming. How fast has the decline been? Factors such as decline of traditional water sources, distorted government policies and breakdown of community ties need to be explored in detail. In addition of course climate change and adverse weather conditions were emphasised earlier.

Starvation Deaths and Farmers’ Suicides

FIVE hunger deaths have been reported from Harijan basti of Nahri village (Naraini block). People here were so fed up of the government that they had threatened collective suicide last year. The government officials came to make promises but there has been no real relief except for a payment of Rs 10,000 to the family of one of the victims of hunger deaths. Employment guarantee scheme, public distribution system—all are in a bad shape even in this village to which a lot of attention has been drawn repeatedly.

In Padui village of neighbouring Mahuwa block seven farmers’ suicides related to economic stress have been reported. In Jalaun district from April 12 to 14 this year, three farmers committed suicide in three days due to conditions of economic stress. Several other news reports of hunger deaths and/or suicides related to economic distress have been published. It is important for people to get out of this shadow of distress and gloom. The government should be quick in recognising distress and responding adequately to it. It should assure people that they are not alone in their distress and suffering and the government will help them to the extent possible. Social organisations should organise people to raise demands unitedly and peacefully so that they don’t feel lonely and consider themselves to be part of a wider struggle for justice.

Plight of Workers

IN many places workers get less than the legal wage, and in particular women workers get much less than male workers. In Madhogarh and Rampura block men are paid between Rs 50 to Rs 60, while women workers generally get between Rs 25 to Rs 35.

It is during harvesting season that farm workers get the most work, but this employment opportunity has been badly reduced in Jalaun district with the large-scale use of combine harvestors for harvesting crop. This year one big farmer introduced this in Manikpur block as well. The spread of highly labour displacing machines like combine harvestors should be checked.

Bonded labour continue to exist in some parts as in Naraini tehsil. Here in some villages there have been instances of workers being brought from outside and mistreated or beaten to such an extent that now most of them behave as if they have lost the will to resist exploitation.

Government Schemes Betray Hopes of People

IN particular there were high hopes from the rural employment guarantee scheme not only to provide employment near home but also to speed up soil and water conservation work, cleaning and repair of village tanks, bunding and levelling of fields belonging to poor farmers and land allotees. Not even a single household got 100 days work or unemployment allowance. Those who get work under this scheme generally get it for only about 20 days or so. The wages of many workers have not been paid for many months. Some workers didn’t get even their job cards as these remained with the pradhan or petty officials who made false entries and cornered funds.

The public distribution system is in a poor shape. The BPL/antodya cards of many genuinely needy people were cancelled. There have been some suicides due to this. Many genuinely needy people can’t get their subsidised rations or old- age pensions. In Itwah village of Manikpur block following many complaints of malfunction of the public distribution system an investigation team came but this team also carried away the ration cards of the families living in the Kol tribal basti of Jagannathpur and these people haven’t yet got back their ration cards. Anganwadi and mid-day meals have also failed to meet the expectations of the people.

Keeping Hope Alive

IT is important that the pall of gloom should be resisted and people should begin to see some signs of hope, or else it will be difficult to stop tragedies like economic distress related suicides which have already started. As it will take some time to frame new plans and schemes, a beginning should be made by much better utilisation of existing schemes particularly the rural employ-ment guarantee scheme. Implemented in a transparent way this scheme should be used to restore traditional water sources, clean and repair tanks, take up soil and water conservation work particularly on the land of poor and small farmers. Immediate steps should be taken without losing a day to provide drinking water to people and animals in the days ahead when water scarcity is likely to reach its peak.

Farmers need more support for low-cast technologies based on local resources and more stable, wider range of livelihoods—including cottage industries. Some relief from the existing high debts will be necessary sooner or later, but it is equally important to ensure that indebtedness does not grow again. Implementation of various government schemes has to improve significantly, and particular attention should be immediately given to ensuring that antodya/BPL cards, old-age and widow pensions soon reach the truly needy people. A challenge for social organisations is to mobilise the people for united action to assert their rights and in the process also create conducive conditions for internal social reforms so that the evils of liquor, dowry system, wasteful expenditures (to which false prestige is linked) and superstitions are curbed. Land rights of small farmers should be protected and the landless should be helped to become small farmers by speeding up land reforms. Voluntary efforts of villagers for sustainable development activities particularly increasing green cover should be encouraged. Mataprasad Tiwari of Mingni village has grown a garden of several thousand trees by sheer determination and hard work in difficult conditions. It is such villagers who need to be encouraged and helped, to find hope in the midst of a lot of despair.

INDIA-PAKISTAN
- Themes Beyond Borders
- Selections from Nikhil Chakravartty’s Writings

Introduction by K.R. Narayanan

Over quarter of a century, the general reading public, particularly the more intellectually inclined in the subcontinent, had looked forward avidly to the editorials and other writings of Nikhil Chakravartty in Mainstream for illumination and understanding of the bewildering developments within the region since 1947. It is, therefore, with nostalgia and great expectations that we turn to the present volume, focusing on Indo-Pak relations, containing Nikhilda’s precious writings on the complexities of developments in the subcontinent since 1947, and look for his analysis of the issues involved with flashes of prophetic ideas the relevance of which now strike us with added poignancy.

The predominant and recurring theme of this publication is to harness the common humanity of both the countries for durable peace and friendship.

The present volume is valuable from the point of view of correctly understanding the evolution of our relationship with Pakistan and educating public opinion about certain historical facts so that those are appreciated in the proper perspective. It is appropriate that on the 90th birth anniversary of Nikhilda this publication is being brought out.

This important book will be of immense value for scholars, policy-makers, students and readers.

(From Introduction by K.R. Narayanan)

Available at all major bookshops Price Rs 400

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