Relentless erosion of farmland and habitations by several rivers in Uttar Pradesh, topped with government indifference, has left villagers refugees in their own lands

Prem Nath Gupta, from Semra village of Uttar Pradesh’s Gazipur district, is a desperate man. He has run from pillar to post in search of help for saving what remains of his village but at the end of this entire effort, he sees very little hope.

Semra is just one of about 50 villages affected by serious river erosion in Gazipur. As the Ganga river continues relentlessly to erode larger parts of the cultivation land and even habitations of these villages, many of them got together to launch the Gaon Bachao Andolan.

Mr. Gupta is the convenor of this movement. He says, “Our efforts to save villages like Sherpur Semra, Shivraikepura, Bachalpur and others using democratic methods, including prolonged fasts, have continued for nearly 25 years. This area is officially listed as a danger zone. But the government has not given the due attention to our survival threat. Many families have been deprived of not just their farmland, but also their living place. Their identity has become unclear, their survival is threatened.”

This problem is by no means unique to Gazipur district. Mr. Gupta asserts that this problem has become serious in about 19 districts of Uttar Pradesh.

Bahraich district, in particular, is very badly affected by river erosion. Jwalaprasad was a middle-level farmer of Kaharanpurwa hamlet, Golganj panchayat (Fakharpur block of Bahraich district). Now due to relentless erosion of his farmland by Ghaghra river, he has been reduced to a small farmer with a very precarious existence. Earlier, he had 19 bighas. Nearly 14 bighas of this land has been lost to the river.

Ramjanki is a widow who had about 11 bighas in Atodar panchayat (Fakharpur block of Bahraich district). However, the Ghaghra turned destructive and washed away her land. She and her family members fled to save their lives leaving behind most of their belongings. Now, like most other villagers, they are forced to live in difficult conditions on an embankment.

Ramchabile is a farmer who lived originally in Munsari village of Mehsi block (Bahraich district) but he now lives in Korva panchayat of the same block. He had to move away from his village when the land here was badly eroded by the Ghaghra river. First he settled some distance away but the river eroded this land as well. Then he moved to Korva panchayat and now his farm here is also threatened.

These examples reveal how people affected by river erosion have to move desperately from one place to another without getting any longer-term assurance or relief. Devoid of their farmland as well as original houses, many of these persons have taken shelter on embankments, erecting thatch structures that can provide little protection from the cold wave. They are the rural homeless, neglected victims of disasters who are often denied even the relief to which they are entitled under the Calamity Relief Fund and related provisions.

Kaharanpurwa village has lost 75 per cent of its farmland to erosion. Most of the residents were small farmers and have nothing to left to subsist on except daily wage labour.

Munsari village was devastated by erosion. Its families started settling some distance away, but the changing river course attacked the new settlement as well and they had to leave a second time. Now they have settled on some land of Korva panchayat. Unfortunately now the river has reached even this land and the land of about 50 farmers from Munsari has been eroded.

People of all these erosion-ravaged villages are badly exposed to hunger and malnutrition as well as denial of other basic needs (including sanitation and healthcare). Women suffer due to lack of toilets and bathing places with some privacy.

Clearly people affected by river erosion suffer from extreme distress. They deserve priority attention and their problems of meeting basic needs as well as protective works should be tackled on a priority basis.