<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>It is time to sow the rabi crop but across the districts of Jhansi, Mahoba, Hamirpur and Jalaun in Uttar Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region, farms are not exactly buzzing with activity. With the rains failing eight times in the past 12 years, farmers in Bundelkhand—a region comprising seven districts each in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, have been driven to desperation. Groundwater levels have fallen alarmingly. Wells have run dry, and tube wells that go down 100 and 150 feet are yielding only trickles. Irrigation, which could have provided much-needed succour, is non-existent or dysfunctional in many areas. Where there is some water flowing through irrigation canals, it benefits only those farms located in the immediate vicinity.In Imilia village near Mauranipur in Jhansi, Prithpal Singh Patel broods over his fledgling crop of chana daal (split Bengal gram) sowed in two acres. “I sowed a month ago and the crop is only three inches high. By now, it would have been six inches tall if there was adequate water,” says Prithpal. The borewell on his field has run dry. A pond across the road from his field still has some water but the villagers have arrived at a consensus that it will be reserved for buffaloes. “The pond will last for two months this way, but if we use it for watering our fields it will dry up in two days,” says Prithpal.In an adjoining field, his uncle Lakhan Singh and his wife, Sarita Devi, are digging furrows for sowing their wheat crop. A borewell on his field yields a trickle of water, and they have to spend hours just to water one small portion of the field. “If there was enough water, the field should have been prepared in a day. But now it takes night and day and over a week for us to finish the buvai (sowing),” says Lakhan.Employing labourers is out of question for these small farmers. “We have to pay Rs 200 per day to the labourers. I could use that money to buy fertilisers or water,” says Prithpal. The farmers are not hiring because of which hundreds of people leave the region daily for cities like Surat, Ahmedabad, Delhi and Mumbai. Everyday, 30 buses filled with labourers and their families leave Orai town in Jalaun district for Surat and Ahmedabad. The fare is Rs 650 per passenger. Many of them even take the monthly rations they received through the Public Distribution System (PDS) scheme on this long journey. But for farmers like Prithpal this is not an option. “For us, it is a question of izzat (honour) and caste pride. I am a landed farmer and unlike others, I cannot do mazdoori (manual labour) in big cities. I am fated to live here and struggle on my farm but I will never work for another man,” says Prithpal.To help Bundelkhand tide over its woes, the UPA government had announced a Rs 7,466 crore Bundelkhand package in November 2010. But across the region, not a single farmer that DNA spoke to said they received any benefit. According to Uttar Pradesh Congress general secretary Bhanu Sahay, 54 per cent of this amount was disbursed, of which 85 per cent has been spent. Funds were granted for minor irrigation, building check dams, tanks, ponds, wells, and animal husbandry. Sahay alleges that all the money went to the contractors favoured by the Bahujan Samaj Party that ruled UP till 2012 and the Samajwadi Party that has been in power since. “Most of the work that was claimed to have been done remained on paper. Where wells were purportedly dug, they were nothing more than pits. The check dams were washed away after just one rain. Neither the SP nor the BSP governments were keen on central monitoring of the package,” says Sahay. He shook his head when asked whether the political compulsions of the UPA government, which required SP and BSP support in Parliament, prevented the Centre from inquiring into the package-related scams.But not all remnants of the Bundelkhand package’s monumental failure have vanished. In every tehsil and district headquarters, a visitor will find an impressive complex that is in stark contrast to the exposed brick one-room tenements and mud huts in the rural countryside and thousands of hectares of fields left fallow. These expansive, fairly new-looking structures are sale-purchase centres for agricultural produce having godowns, roofed sheds, shops, parking space and other amenities. The catch is that all these spick-and-span mandis (markets), for which Rs 693 crore was sanctioned under the Bundelkhand package, are lying empty. “No farmer brings any produce here. They all take their grains to the older mandis or sell to the middlemen who visit their villages. Waise bhi (Anyways), the produce they bring is in such small quantities. Grain merchants are not going to come here to purchase if the volumes are not there,” says Maha Prasad, the caretaker of the mandi at Bhasneh-Madhavpura in Jhansi district.It is an irony that this money spent on building mandis was not spent on improving the irrigation network. Ten kilometres away, in Gursarai in Garautha tehsil, farmers under the aegis of the BJP Kisan Morcha are sitting on dharna (sit-in) near the Betwa Main Canal protesting the delay in releasing water into the canal. “We are already late by 21 days. We should have already been done with paleva (pre-sowing irrigation) and bovai (sowing). If we don’t sow now, the crops will not ripen by March first week, after which temperatures will rise steeply and yields will fall,” says Janendra Jain, a farmer and BJP functionary. He alleges that the irrigation department cannot put more water into the canal because the money allocated for canal repairs was being siphoned off. “If the quantity of water is increased, water will leak from the canal walls and submerge the adjacent fields,” says Jain.Because there is little water in the canal it cannot flow into the ditches that take the water to farms further away. Farms up to a 100-metre distance can use pumpsets to pump the water into their fields. Some farmers also use a second pumpset to drive the water further forward. The Gursarai dharna is being led by Kisan Morcha leader Jawaharlal Rajput who has worked for 25 years among farmers and is seeking a BJP ticket to contest the elections.”Bhaisaab (respectful address for ‘brother’) we will win if he gets the ticket. Unfortunately, he has not made a single penny in all these years. If he gets the tickets, we will have to pool in money to finance the campaign,”says Nehil Singhai, a local ABVP leader whose father is also one of the protesting farmers. But it is unlikely that the protest will succeed or reach the authorities’ ears. “A junior engineer who is in charge of the canal never visits this area. All the authorities sit in Jhansi and Lucknow and never venture out. The biggest problem in Bundelkhand is that there are no authorities to raise grievances with and the elected representatives are hardly accessible.This is why the Bundelkhand package failed,” says Rajput.But in most places farmers are not even getting support from political parties or NGOs that Rajput is able to muster. Across Bundelkhand, there are complaints that the lekhpal (village revenue official) disburses compensation cheques for those who suffered crop loss only when he is offered a cut. With droughts becoming a regular feature in Bundelkhand, it has also contributed to massive indebtedness. Most farmers DNA spoke to reported having loans which they have stopped repaying because the earnings from farming were too meagre.Near Srinagar in Mahoba district, Janshidhar, a 35-year-old farmer, has given up agriculture all together. “Besides our three bighas of land, my father, Makumbi, had leased ten more bighas in the 2014-15 rabi season, took a loan, and purchased a tractor in partnership with a neighbour. But our wells ran dry. There is no tubewell nearby and the crop yield turned out to be very poor and my father slipped into a depression. In February 2015, he suffered a sudden heart attack and passed away,” says Janshidhar. The partner took the tractor away and the three bighas Makumbi owned have been partitioned between Janshidhar and his two brothers. “I have given up any hope of a viable income from farming,” says Janshidhar. In nearby Urwara village, Chedalal Mishra also died of shock in March 2015 following a heart attack when a hailstorm damaged his field of wheat which was ripe for harvest. “He had taken a loan of Rs 2 lakh through the kisan credit card and was always worried about how to repay it,” says Malati, his widow.Shyam Singh, who owns 12 acres of land, complains that the irrigation department has made no attempt to channel water to his fields. Besides water, he claims the other big samasya in the area is proliferation of stray cows.”Ever since this slogan of gau raksha was raised, we farmers have been badly hit. Cattle traders don’t buy cows.”

Originally posted here: 

DNAInUP: Farming in the shadow of drought