Atiq Khan

Exodus of people continues from Bundelkhand

LUCKNOW: As the exodus of people continued from the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh and reports of starvation deaths and suicide by debt-ridden farmers gained momentum, the State Government sought to play down the gravity of the crisis.

The Government said that only 14 deaths were reported since May this year, and six belonged to Bundelkhand. Of these, none was a starvation death or a suicide, it claimed and gave the break-up as Mahoba 3 cases, Banda 2, Hamirpur 1 (these districts are in Bundelkhand), Agra, Auraiya, Shahjahanpur, Lakhimpur-Kheri , Meerut, Ghazipur, Ballia and Unnao one each.

The Government attributed the deaths to "family disputes," "injury due to a scuffle," or "the victims being mentally challenged." When contacted the Principal Secretary, Revenue, V.K. Sharma, dismissed the reports of hunger deaths and farmers' suicide in Bundelkhand as "unsubstantiated claims."

"True, rainfall has been scanty in the region Bundelkhand, ranging from a week's rain in August to September being completely dry, but there has not been a single authenticated death due to hunger or debt," Mr. Sharma told The Hindu .

Bundelkhand has been witnessing drought-like conditions for the last four years, and it was in 2004-05 that the region was declared drought-hit following more than 50 per cent crop loss in the seven districts of Jhansi, Lalitpur, Jalaun, Mahoba, Hamirpur, Banda and Chitrakoot.

After the region experienced another bout of failed monsoon, the Agriculture Department has estimated that oilseeds and paddy crop, which are sown during the kharif season, would be hit hard. These apart from jowar and bajra are the main crops sown in the region.

However, the Revenue Department refuses to accept that crop loss accounted for more than 50 per cent for the region to be declared drought-hit. "The crop loss ranged from five to 10 per cent and moreover kharif sowing was minimal in Bundelkhand where the area under rabi crop was more," said Mr. Sharma.

However, according to the CPI National Executive member, Ashok Mishra, from June to September around 45 deaths due to hunger and suicide have occurred in Banda district alone. "The majority of the hunger deaths was attributed to the BPL ration cards being cancelled by the district administration which resulted in no ration for the poor," he said.

Mr. Mishra added that Lalitpur district was the worst-affected yet the most ignored. Here about 65 people died in the last six months.

`Death toll 1,000'

The Congress has taken up this issue with the U.P. Governor, demanding a proper probe. It claimed that the number of starvation deaths in Bundelkhand was around 1000. These parties ridiculed the Government for issuing drought relief cheques ranging from Rs. 10 to Rs. 25.

Mr. Sharma admitted that cheques for small amounts have been distributed, but, these were for 2004-05 when the region was declared drought-hit and it was a very miniscule component of the total relief to farmers.

Mr. Sharma said: "Rs. 28-crore relief has been distributed to around five lakh farmers in Bundelkhand."

The State Government has, meanwhile, directed the district magistrates not to adopt coercive measures for the recovery of bank loans.