Villagers in Mahoba district have not received subsidised grain despite being in the worst drought-affected district in Uttar Pradesh.
“Will those who get the two rupees per kg wheat please raise their hand?”
Not a single hand went up.
We were at a meeting of about 30 people in Kirari village (Kabrai block) of Mahoba district in Uttar Pradesh.
Villagers said no one was getting the cheap grain yet, although there had been talk of it. The UP government had ordered for the sale of wheat and rice at two and three rupees per kg respectively, as mandated by the food security law, from January onwards. Although Mahoba is the worst drought affected district in the state and Kirari is located just five kms from the district headquarters, the highly subsidised grain has not yet been received in the village, even until February 11.
In Pachara village of Jaitpur block, however, in a discussion with about 50 families, eight raised their hands when asked if they have started receiving the subsidised grain, although in some cases the number of family members (units) listed are lower.
The distribution process has started in Mahoba, but only reached a few villages and people as of now. This is tragic, as people in these villages need the subsidised grain as soon as possible.
After three successive crop failures, almost all the families in these villages are suffering from extreme hunger and malnutrition. Many can only afford to eat a single roti a day. The staple sources of proteins – pulses and milk – are missing from the diet of most villagers, except for schoolchildren, who receive it in very small portions in their mid-day meals).
In the instances when the subsidised grain has been available, it lasts only a week or so. A typical seven-member rural family that gets 35 kgs grain needs approximately five kgs of the grain in a single day. For the rest of the month, families are forced to purchase wheat at the market rate –19 rupees per kg. Further, buying some vegetables, pulses, spices and oil for their meals cost around 200 rupees per day per family. In most cases, this amount is much higher than what they earn as daily wages. Besides, there are many other pressing expenses too.
Even the wage offered at NREGA work sites is insufficient, not to mention that most often the payment of these wages is delayed. As Urmila, a Pachara village resident explains, “We are too weak to do the hard khanti work such as digging a tank in stony land at a depth and carrying soil to a considerable distance. If easier land-levelling and bunding work is provided, then we can do it.”
Abhishek Mishra, director of voluntary organisation Arunodaya says, “NREGA work was delayed for too long and many youngsters migrated in search of work. Now when older and weaker family members are given the hard khanti work, they find it difficult to do. Plus, the long delays in payments are a big problem for hungry people who need to purchase grain to survive.”
In Pachara, many villagers have not yet received their wages for NREGA work done around three months ago.
Harinath Singh used to be a prosperous farmer in Kirari, owning around 20 acres of land. Today, after three consecutive crop failures, he is reduced to rags, struggling hard and staying awake through the night to guard his sole one acre planted field from stray animals. He says, “The next few months are going to be even tougher. How will we survive and how our animals will survive?”
Already, a very high mortality rate among farm animals has been reported. The animals’ needs often get overlooked when the people themselves are hungry and thirsty. Urgent measures are needed in Mahoba district to protect the people and farm animals.