Drought pushes farmers to the brink in Bundelkhand

Swathes of land lie unused; peasants migrate or take their own lives as the crippling water crisis shatters their hopes.

Updated - December 04, 2021 11:03 pm IST

Published - April 26, 2016 12:38 am IST - BUNDELKHAND:

On the night on March 27, Musru Prajapati was up as usual, keeping vigil in his field at Khurhand village in Banda, Uttar Pradesh. Three consecutive droughts, with bouts of hailstorms and unseasonal rains, had dented his morale. He wanted to defend whatever little crop he managed to grow on his four-bigha land from stray animals which raided his fields in the dark.

“He had started to look tense and desperate. He even reduced his food intake,” said Musru’s son Mayaram.

Musru, who owed Rs 1 lakh to moneylenders and relatives, was found dead the next morning. The post-mortem report could not ascertain the actual cause of his death, but his family, villagers and local officials believe he was the latest in the list of “ sadma ” (shock) deaths that have stalked the parched landscape of Bundelkhand. In Banda itself, nine such deaths have been reported in the last two months, District Magistrate Yogesh Kumar said.

To witness the agrarian crisis, all one needs to do is drive through the parched region, past its definitive yellow and brown landscape. Swathes of land lie unused as farmers did not sow this season given the absence of irrigation facilities and crippling water crisis. Some took a chance, seduced by light showers, only to face huge losses later.

Musru’s family had borrowed the seeds and fertilizer, and even leased land at much higher costs. The burden has now shifted to his son Mayaram, whose plans to migrate were shattered by his father’s death. He now has to take care of three younger brothers. “While politicians are building farm houses, farmers are forced to abandon their farms,” said Mayaram, who remains without a job despite a graduate degree in education and a post-graduate degree in economics.

Rising suicides

According to activist Sanjay Singh, around 18 lakh people have migrated from Bundelkhand over the years. Since 2003, 3,500 farmers are estimated to have committed suicide in the region. The figure this year is already 174, said Mr. Singh.

While the agrarian distress has shattered the hopes of smaller peasants, even the big farmers are at a loss, many engaging in distress sale of grain and cattle. The poor quality of grain is also making it harder to sell. “The Food Corporation of India accepts six per cent ‘shrinkled’ gain but the farmers’ samples [with around 12 per cent shrinkled] are failing the FCI standards. They are engaging in distress sale much below the MSP of Rs.1525 per quintal. We have requested the government to relax the norms,” said Mr. Kumar.

The area under cultivation has shrunk and consequently output of major crops has fallen sharply. Those relying solely on farming have been pushed to the brink.

“Farmers don’t have enough to eat, forget about recovering the money for the cost of fertilizers, seeds, or selling it in the market. We were better off without sowing anything,” said Munna Lal, a farmer in Hamirpur, who could only salvage two quintals of wheat after increased investment.

The figures for Chitrakoot Division explain it all. The overall output of wheat in the mandal has halved in the past three years. If in 2012-13, the output was 23.87 quintals per hectare, in 2015, the figure has plummeted to 11.28 quintals. In 2016, it is just one-third.

Chana dal (chick pea) also did not fare well. Production has fallen consistently from 3.25 quintals per hectare in 2014 to a meagre 1.75 quintals in 2015. The production of peas, masur and jowar has also fallen substantially.

The total area under cultivation for the rabi crop in Chitrakoot division has halved in a year. In 2014-15, the cropped area was 8,90,982 hectares as against a target of 9,22,057, while 3,01,74 hectares were left uncultivated. The figures for the 2015-16 season are however, much worse: against a target of 9,42,013 hectares, the cultivated area was a paltry 4,20,051 hectares. Significantly, 5,21,962 hectares were left uncultivated.

The kharif crop production has been much below the State average. Rice output in 2014 was 16.17 quintals per hectare against the State average of 22.67, while Barja was 9.71 quintals per acre (State average was 19) and Arhar dal (red gram) was only 3.85 quintals per hectare against the State average of 8.20.

To address the crisis, the Akhilesh Yadav government has allotted Rs 867 crore for the damage to crops this year. The State had suspended all revenue collection till March 31, while also increasing the working days under MNREGA from 100 to 150 days. From April, it also implemented the Food Security Act, under which food grains would be distributed for free for four months, and introduced 100 per cent coverage of all eligible families under the Samajwadi Pension Scheme. The government also launched the Samajwadi Drought Relief programme, under which antodyaya families would get relief material of 10 kg of wheat flour, five kg of rice, five kg of Chanadal (chick pea flour), 25 kg of potatoes, fiver litres of mustard oil, one kg pure Ghee and one kg of milk powder.

While observers have praised the State government’s drought response measures, some feel the real test is in ensuring their implementation. While travelling for this story, this correspondent found that many villages were yet to even have their lists of FA beneficiaries ready. Officials blame the administrative mechanism and system of distribution for the delays and lapses.

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