Against ideal norms of 33 percent green cover, only 1.21 percent area remains forested in Banda district. Situation in other areas is by and large the same, despite spending around Rs 200 crores in the last decade from the state’s exchequer for tree plantation in Bundelkhand.
Tree planting drives in Bundelkhand have stoked controversy in the past as well. During the BSP regime, Rs 10 lakh saplings were claimed to be planted after allowing 100 days wages under the MGNREGA but most of the work remained on paper and a huge scam was unearthed. CBI has been entrusted to inquire into the misuse of funds but for the last two years, no progress was reported in the case.
The Banda district has become an epicentre of illegal sand and stone mining where, under political patronage and bureaucratic connivance, syndicates and mafias flourish.
In the Sona mines of Kanwara Ghat, mining is openly done using restricted heavy Pokland machines. “Mechanised mining is banned by courts in order to maintain natural flow of the river and to protect aquatic life. Only manual mining with labourers is allowed to some extent. But who cares about law when the enforcement machinery is in connivance with the miners,” says Sagar, who had filed a PIL before high court to stop illegal mining. The aquatic life in Ken river has been destroyed as a result.
Now, some big syndicates from Punjab are likely to take over this lucrative business from local groups.
Farmers have been ruined as the soil now has a disproportionately high amount of sodium because of s of stone dust created by mining. The dust has affected the area across the Jhansi- Mahoba-Kabraee route. Because of the silica dust, people in areas such as Bargad in Chitrakoot district are suffering from asthma, silicosis, tuberculosis and even cancer. The conditions of Adivasis in the Chitrakoot district is worse. They live in remote villages and hardly have any access to modern facilities. One such ‘Lohiya’ village near Bijhana comprises of 430-450 families of tribal people. An old woman, Chhedana, says with reluctance, “We have no food grains to feed our families and after selling firewood in the market, we can barely manage one meal a day.”
The people of Nayapurva village of Manikpur Patha, are facing acute water shortage as the canals and ponds have dried up. “Our Kharif crop was destroyed completely and we could not sow the Rabi crop due to drought. Hundreds of villagers are facing starvation and are migrating to Mumbai, Delhi and Punjab to earn livelihood,” says Malkhan, a villager.
The president of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu Group) of Bundelkhand, Shiv Narayan Singh Parihar, says, “Thousands of families have migrated to big towns for want of work. They had no food to eat. The natural calamities have ruined their lives. The Kisan credit cards, which the farmers believed would help them, have only brought them huge debts. These hapless villagers, burdened by debts, are being forced to commit suicide when coercive measures are adopted to recover these debts.”
Expressing his concern over suicides of farmers, the Jhansi District Magistrate Anurag Yadav tells this correspondent, “I have taken personal initiative with the help of my wife, Preeti Chaudhri, to raise funds from our personal friends. Our appeal on social media fetched Rs 25 lakh within 15 days. Money is being given to those girls whose marriages could not take place due to lack of funds.”
“The state government is sensitive to the farmers’ plight,” says UP chief secretary Alok Ranjan. “We has also submitted a detailed plan to the Centre seeking financial assistance of Rs 2057.79 crore to provide immediate relief and start longterm measures for insulating the region from natural disasters. A high-level team from Delhi has already visited affected areas to assess extent of loss to farmers and their crops.”
The government, Ranjan says, is considering increasing subsidy on oilseeds for Rabi crops. The state government has declared 50 districts of the state as drought-affected where more than 33 percent crop was damaged and revenue collection was suspended until March 2016 in these districts. Efforts are on to generate employment under MGNREGA for 150 days.
In October, a study team of ‘Swaraj Abhiyan’ led by noted economists Jean Drèze, Ritika Khera and Sanjay Singh conducted an interview-based study in seven districts of Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh. The survey covered 27 tehsils and 108 villages of which 41 villages have famine-like conditions. It was part of their “Samvedna Yatra” across some of the drought-stricken states of the country.
Releasing the findings of the study to media in New Delhi, its founder Yogendra Yadav said, “The Rabi crop has already been damaged. Ninety per cent of the people said crops of jowar, bajra, moong and soyabean have been damaged while 61 percent of the farmers said their entire crop were damaged this year. Nutrition has become a major issue in the villages there as 79 percent people interviewed said they have not had a full meal for the past two months.”
Yadav alleged that even under the MGNREGA, the employment the villagers got was only 9.5 days a month on an average. He said that water-scarcity is also a major issue faced by villagers with 31 per cent villages having non-functional hand pumps. “Sixty six percent of villages have shown an increase in quarrels over the last month,” Yadav said, adding that 24 percent of respondents said they had to send their child to work and had to borrow food for survival.
He stressed that the government needs to take emergency measures which include measures to ease water crisis, save cattle, provide food for the hungry, provide gainful alternative employment, give relief loans and recoveries and respond to the issue of farmer suicide.
The government machinery too has failed to face this challenge. There is also a disconnect among the key government departments. While the irrigation department says there is shortage of water, the agriculture department is increasing the area under Rabi crop. Meanwhile, tales of sorrow and tragedy are escalating in Bundelkhand, which is slowly becoming another Vidarbha.