(Article) Farmers’ distress in Bundelkhand

Farmers’ distress in Bundelkhand

In Sijahri village of Kabrai block (Mahoba district) a physically disabled widow Uma Devi is facing an unjust situation. Her husband Rai Bahadur of Bilkhi village died due to trauma caused by massive loss of crop. She and her father Ram Sahodar Rajput explained that Uma and her two small children were thrown out of her husband's house by his elder brother who wants to grab the land. He is being helped by some influential local people. Unless the administration comes to the help of Uma Devi, she may lose the land assets she has to bring up her children.

Suman Raigwar's husband Chanchal Raigwar died in Pirpa village (Chattarpur district), unable to bear the shock of crop loss. Excessive rain and hailstorm also damaged her house badly. A big chunk of her land has passed into the hands of moneylenders. How will she survive with her two children? Neither Suman nor Uma have received any help or assurance so far from the government. These are only a few tragic examples of the spate of recent suicides and trauma deaths among farmers of Bundelkhand region. In a single district, Banda, as many as 40 such deaths were reported within six weeks or so, or about one such death per day. Although at the national level farmers' suicides are much discussed, in Bundelkhand trauma deaths are more frequent. When farmers see or handle their almost completely ruined crops, they are traumatised and collapse.

Many of them die before they can be rushed to a hospital. Beyond these deaths, there is the extreme and accentuating distress of lakhs of other farmers in the region. Extensive damage to rabi crops caused by unseasonal, excessive rain and exceptionally heavy hailstorms have accentuated the crisis of already indebted farmers. Now it is a question of survival in many villages. A large number of families have already migrated, leaving behind only old members. Hunger stares many more in the face as the rabi crops have been almost entirely ruined. Animals face fodder shortage. In Banda district alone during six weeks as many as 40 farmers are reported to have either committed suicide or else collapsed to death due to acute distress, trauma and grim uncertainties about how to survive in the midst of crop ruin and high debts. It needs to be emphasised that the damage is much more extensive and the crisis is much deeper than what is commonly believed. In this area this is the third continuing bad year for farmers due to highly adverse weather conditions. The weather from mid-February to the first week of April was the worst setback for farmers.

This included three rounds of heavy hailstorm and almost 20 days of unseasonal rains, mostly heavy rains. This has wiped out the crops of wheat, gram, arhar and mustard, resulting in 50 to 100 per cent loss in various villages. The yield is so low that it is not worth harvesting crops in several villages. Even the very meagre grain obtained is of low quality. For most families the situation is so serious that they will soon face dangerous levels of hunger and under-nutrition. In addition water shortages and health problems are increasing. In the villages we visited almost all farmers are indebted, both to banks and private moneylenders. Their lands are tied to debts, and some farmers are losing effective control of land. There is no money for social expenses considered essential (like weddings).

All this has created a situation of hopelessness and helplessness. It is in this situation that possibilities of suicide and trauma death increase.Women too are extremely distressed and depressed, although this is being ignored. Most discussion so far is on compensation. In the villages we visited officials had made inquiries but people had not yet received payments. In Gahabra, villagers have not received any payment for any weather-related adverse situation in the last three years, despite heavy losses.

No payment has been received from insurance companies either. Why no insurance benefits actually reach farmers should be investigated. Compensatory payment is being promised to landowners, but not to sharecroppers. Sharecroppers (and lump sum rent farmers) have lost heavily due to the expenses they've incurred. Farm workers have also lost their regular livelihood, but are not getting compensatory or relief payment. If and when such payment comes, this by itself will not be adequate to help villagers.

A much wider agenda has to drawn up, including widespread, better and honest implementation of MGNREGA and various food-securty measures. PDS should be improved significantly, Mid-day meals should improve, should continue during vacation and should include cooking meals for the most vulnerable elderly people (particularly those who are alone as their children have migrated). ICDS scheme should also be improved. The payments that the government decides for families of farmers (including sharecroppers and farm-workers) who have suffered untimely death recently should be provided at an early date with dignity so that the distressed families don't have to suffer more problems in accessing this.

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