Besides their crops being destroyed by the rains, the houses of several villagers have also collapsed.
Kirari, Bundelkhand: Bundelkhand, a region spread over 13 districts of UP and Madhya Pradesh, was in the news repeatedly until June as one of the worst drought-affected regions in the country. However, early rains raised hopes for much needed relief. The never-say-die farmers took loans to plant kharif crops – various pulses, oilseeds, millets and paddy. But their hopes turned to despair in hundreds of villages as floods and excessive rain either ruined crops at an early stage or led to delays that will lower yields.
Gaya Prasad Gopal, one of the most respected and senior social activists in the region, says, “The heavy loss to crops should be seen together with the destruction or serious damage caused to many kutcha houses. Small and marginal farmers as well as the landless have been affected the most by this. With the rains and the winter ahead of them, and with many families already affected by poor health, undernutrition and disease, most people, particularly those affected by serious housing loss, have difficult times ahead of them.”
Kirari village in the Kabrai block of Mahoba district is one of those villages where a long drought was followed by extensive damage caused by the rains. When I reported from this village just recently about the acute distress caused by the prolonged absence of rain, I could not have imagined that I will be returning so soon to report on damage caused by very heavy rain. “Why do the rain Gods have to be so miserly first and over-generous later?” asks Harinath, a farmer who has suffered immensely due to the erratic weather trends.
He and other farmers from Kirari may not have heard the scientific debates on climate change, but what they know only too well is that this is the fourth time in two years that they have lost a major part of their crop. In a group discussion, they said that they have lost 100% of the til (sesame) crop and around 80% of the urad and moong pulse crops. These are the three main kharif crops in this village.
Another farmer, Devi Singh, says, “We have higher hopes of saving money from kharif crops because the cost of cultivation is lower. In the rabi crops, the cost of cultivation on irrigation and other inputs is much higher. So the disappointment over the loss of these crops is very high.”
Ramkali, an elderly woman says, “I have not only lost my crops but in addition my house has collapsed. How will my family survive in this rainy season and later in the winter?”
People continue to face serious food shortages. After the drought, they had to borrow more for planting their crops, decreasing their capacity to get a survival loans now. A few families have received the much publicised samajwadi ration packets distributed by the state government. However, the implementation of the food security law continues to be late and patchy. Although the state government has temporarily waved even the low price charged for the very limited quantity of grain provided under this law, the reality is that this free grain reaches only a few of the people.
Social workers who have been working to try and improve implementation under the scheme are disappointed. Activist Rajendra Chaurasia spoke of case of one Asha Devi from Ravatpura Khurd village in Kulpahar tehsil, whose name was on the online list but not on the one produced by the ration shopkeeper or kotedaar as he is called locally. When Chaurasia took up her case and it was highlighted by the media, a parchi or slip was made in her name, but the kotedaar still refused to give her the free grain. This example shows how even cases that are pursued over a long time are not getting justice. Simple appeals made by isolated villagers are then even less likely to be heard.
There is no MNREGA work in the rainy season. Possibilities for construction or other work in nearby towns and markets are also low. Hunger and malnutrition still remain a very serious threat in the region. Meanwhile, as Devi Singh adds, banks, which were not sending loan payment notices during the drought period, have now started sending them, adding to the tensions of farmers.
Link roads have been badly damaged in many villages, so that patients have even more problems than before in accessing medical facilities.
However, there is one significant improvement. The shortage of water and grass for farm animals has ended, providing some badly needed relief. Farmers growing groundnuts have also suffered less damage.
On the whole, the situation in many villages remains very serious. Shipra Mishra is a Mahoba-based social worker who recently spoke to many rural women at a training camp. She says, “Conversations revealed very disturbing signs of growing loss of hope and a sense of helplessness in coping with the emerging situation, as all hopes associated with the current crop have been dashed in many villages.”
Such feelings have been accentuated by the denial of farm insurance benefits. Farmers of Kirari village feel very strongly on this issue and say that they should receive these payments quickly at the time of such extensive damage, but this does not happen.
Clearly there is need to provide more aid to those who have suffered additional losses before having the chance to recover from previous names. Apart from government help, efforts by social organisations are also needed. Mukund Foundation has started grain banks in some villages. Its coordinator Manoj Tiwari says, “The idea is not just to make a one-time donation of grain for the most needy households but to keep adding to it from time to time to maintain stocks.” More such initiatives are needed, but there is an even greater need to improve the implementation of the food security law.