October 27th, 2009 12:14 EST
The Tale of Kusuma
By Alka Pande
Kalli`s day starts early and ends early. Her husband Tulsidas, who was an agricultural labourer, is away in Surat, Gujarat, where he now works as a factory worker. Their two daughters, aged 12 and eight, help their mother who is only 35 years old but is quite worn out with household chores and looking after her two-year-old son.
Kalli, a resident of Panchampura village in Naraini block of Banda district, which falls in the Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh (UP), is a broken woman today. She living in extreme poverty and is single-handedly keeping the family going in the absence of her husband. "He had to leave home and look for work because we had nothing to eat. We were on the verge of dying of hunger," she recalls. Now they live on whatever Tulsidas manages to send them. Says Kalli, "Wahan apna pet kaat ker jo paisa bhejte hain us se jaise taise gujara ho raha hai (We are surviving on whatever my husband is able to send after scrounging on his own needs)."
The tale of Kusuma, 25, also of Panchampura, is a little different. Instead of staying back, she moved along with her eight-year-old son when her husband, Rajaram, 30, decided to go to Mumbai. They locked up their house in the village and have hardly come home since then. Rajaram was a daily wager in the fields and used to earn Rs 30 to Rs 50 per day (US$1=Rs 46.8). Today, he earns Rs 100.
People like Kusuma, Rajaram and Tulsidas are among the thousands moving out of the drought-ridden Bundelkhand in a bid to survive. Rains, when they come, are erratic, making it extremely difficult to farm in a sustainable way. For these people, the "greener" pastures now are cities like Mumbai, Surat and Faridabad, besides some of the bigger towns of UP where they eke out a living.
Government records confirm that from 1978 onwards the Bundelkhand region, which comprises seven districts of UP and six of Madhya Pradesh, has faced 12 severe droughts. In fact, the UP districts of Jhansi, Jalaun, Lalitpur, Hamirpur, Mahoba, Banda and Chitrakoot, not surprisingly, figure among India`s 100 most backward districts.
But why has Bundelkhand been so arid for so long? Is the region impacted by climate change? Why has the government done nothing to address the impact of extreme weather?
"Illegal quarrying topped with rampant deforestation has gradually deteriorated the climatic conditions of the area. Apart from this, non-judicious use of fertilisers has spoilt the soil quality," explains Gaya Prasad Gopal of Akhil Bhartiya Samaj Sewa Sansthan that is working on water harvesting and on rehabilitation of bonded labourers.
The seven UP districts have also been receiving less than 350 mm of rainfall annually for last five to seven years, against the normal rainfall of 800 to 1,000 mm. The administration declares an area drought-hit, if sowing in fields is less than 50 per cent and the rainfall, too, is less than 50 per cent.
The situation has grown critical in last four-five years. The official records confirm that rainfall mostly starts by June-end and concludes in September. With the water table going down drastically at the rate of 45 to 50 per cent per year, incessant drought-like conditions have reduced the value of agriculturally productive land areas to somewhere between Rs 1,000 and Rs 10,000 per `bigha` (1 bigha=0.4 hectares).
This situation has affected the lives of thousands. In Banda, which falls in the Chitrakoot division, there are over 3,500 ponds, of which more than 80 per cent have either dried up or are nearly dry. The recent spell of sporadic rainfall has failed to revive them. People here are almost completely dependent on hand pumps, but the majority of these have also dried up. "The water problem has not changed in years. Today we have to queue up at hand pumps to get water," reveals Kalli.
The Ground Water Department of Uttar Pradesh government has warned of a further deterioration in the situation. For instance, in the department records of eight development blocks in the Chitrakoot division, there has been an annual fall of 10 to 20 per cent in ground water levels. Other blocks are even worse hit. "There are four blocks where this percentage is between 20 and 30. Seven other development blocks are facing a 40 to 50 per cent decrease in ground water level every year," reveals Sanjay Singh of Parmarth Sewa Sansthan, which is based in Orai/Jalaun.
Severe water scarcity has made agriculture a difficult livelihood option although 80 per cent of the population is engaged in farming activities. The small and marginal farmers are especially dependent on the monsoons. The major crops of this region are potato, sugarcane and oil seeds.
According to Utkarsh Sinha of Centre for Contemporary Studies and Research, a Lucknow-based organisation on advocacy and consultancy, the cropping pattern here has remained largely unchanged since 1977-78. Around 65-80 per cent of the cultivable land remains unsown during the Kharif (June to October) season.
There has not been a decent harvest since 2001-02 and the situation has grown critical since after 2004.
All this has left the poor with no option but to migrate. Giving an insight into this trend is Raja Bhaiya, of the Vidyadham Samiti, an NGO. Having recently done a study on migration patterns in the region, he says, "There are two patterns of migrations from Bundelkhand. One, where a few family members go out to earn while the rest remain behind; another, where whole families move out in search of work." During the two-month study (June-July), volunteers of the Samiti visited every house in Panchampura to assess the situation on the ground level.
The worst affected are the old and the infirm. Take the case of septuagenarian Sukhia and her infirm husband, Kailash, of Panchampura, who have no one to look after them. They couple makes do with whatever help their neighbours can render.
Of course, the administration can only feign ignorance at this dismal situation. Hiramani Mishra, Chief Development Officer of Naraini, states, "I have no clue that the situation is so bad. I will conduct a probe into the matter and effective measures will be taken accordingly." The newly-appointed Joint Magistrate of Banda, Prabhu Narain, is also quick with assurances: "I have just taken charge. I plan to visit each village to know the problems at the grassroots level. Appropriate action will be taken to tackle the situation."
From all evidence, the administrative machinery is just not working in the areas that need it the most. Incidentally, despite the livelihood crisis, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act has yet to be fully implemented here.
According to the 2001 census, the population of the UP districts of Bundelkhand is 8.23 million. This is about five per cent of the total population of the state. For people here life has become a constant struggle for existence and administrative apathy has made a bad situation worse.
Those who have been observing the situation are pessimistic about the future. Raja Bhaiya warns, "The situation of endemic drought has not changed for decades. In fact it will only worsen with time unless urgent action is taken."
(Â© Women`s Feature Service)
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