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Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2008 > June 21, 2008 > Bundelkhand’s Serious Drought Demands Immediate Attention

Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 27

Bundelkhand’s Serious Drought Demands Immediate Attention

Wednesday 25 June 2008, by Bharat Dogra

Recently a lot of attention has been drawn to hunger, poverty and five-year long drought situation in Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh.

Hunger and malnutrition are reaching extreme limits. Cattle and other farm animals suffer from very serious fodder shortage. As I noticed during field-visits from December to May, despite some improvement in government efforts to tackle the serious drought situation, feudal oppression and corruption have combined with ecological ruin to increase the distress of people and the summer months with their aggravating water crisis pose a very tough challenge for sheer survival. Several hunger deaths and distress-related suicides have been reported over vast areas. Water shortages have become acute. Cattle have perished in the thousands due to hunger and thirst.

Bhandra village (in Kabrai block of Mahoba district) is in the grip of serious drought and adverse weather for the fifth continuous year. People here subsist mostly on roti and salt. In most families food is cooked only once a day, and sometimes even that is not possible. Pulses and vegetables have become a luxury that the overwhelming majority of families just can’t afford. Almost all the families in the villages are indebted, to banks or private moneylenders, the debts ranging from a few thousand rupees to over Rs 3 lakhs. Estimates for the combined debt of the entire village are around Rs 16 crores. Many farmers can lose their land due to indebtedness if relief is not provided.

Most wells and the famous historical Dharamsagar tank of this village have dried up. A majority of people have left the village in search of work in distant lands. The kharif crop was entirely lost. Less than 10 per cent of the farmland was planted with rabi crops. Even on this meagre cropped land most farmers can barely get back the seeds they planted, no more. Vast stretches of barren, unplanted fields surround the village habitation.

Ninety-year old Kishorilal Nayak says: “I’ve seen many droughts but I never saw a situation as bad as this.”

IN the context of this deteriorating situation, the observations of an experts team chaired by Arundhati Dharu, Uttar Pradesh Adviser to Supreme Court Commissioners on Food Rights Issues, assume significance. This team after visiting several villages of Bundelkhand noted: “The general health characteristics as evidenced from two nutrition indicators, namely, the Body Mass Index and the haemoglobin count in the blood show that the population is severely malnourished. Some shocks could drive them to the verge of death. Examples of such shocks include : (a) lack of food in the household for a prolonged period; (b) illness, even minor ailments such as diarrhoea if unattended; (c) neurobiological disorders including suicides. The situation of children in particular was appalling. The abysmal haemoglobin levels of children (39 percent of children below the age of 14 years have haemiglobin below 8g/dl) is a wake up call to Bundelkhand’s nutrition emergency. This phenomenon needs to be explored further, including the dietary habits and food absorption among adults. Among children worm infestation also seems to be one of the causes of low haemiglobin. Similarly, the Body Mass Index for children, though not considered a very robust indicator, shows that 75 per cent children suffer from Chronic Energy Deficiency of Grade III.”

On the indebtedness of villagers this report said: “In village after village it was revealed to the Team how the farmers were lured into taking a loan either on the Kisan Credit Card or otherwise. For instance, many small and medium farmers have been given loans to buy tractors. In most cases, the loanee does not receive the full amount and is not in a position to invest whatever little he receives fruitfully. Droughts, of course, accentuate the distress but the entire lending process has been full of corruption and misdeeds of the bankers and middlemen.

“It is common knowledge that the tractor companies, land mafia and bankers collude to lure the farmer into taking large sums as loan against his land. They are fully aware that subsequently the farmer would default. The ultimate aim is to auction the land. There have also been instances when the farmer has not taken any credit but through forged papers there are large amounts standing against his name.”

During this critical period Bundelkhand’s plan of action should be based on reducing distress related to scarcity of water and food as much as possible. Providing relief from bhookh pyaas (hunger and thirst) to human beings as well as animals should be the central point of this action plan.

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