Sustainable livelihoods for Dalits and Tribals in Bundelkhand
is one of the most backward parts of the country with a large population of
Other Backward Castes (53%), Scheduled Castes/Dalits (25%) and Tribals (10%).
However, it is the remaining 12%, mainly Thakurs and Brahmins, who own land.
Three-fourths of the population relies on agriculture, which is mostly rainfed,
for a livelihood.
The lack of agricultural land, thus, is a principal reason
for poverty. Also the poor soil quality, lack of irrigation facilities, erratic
rainfall and, paradoxically, floods make agriculture a difficult occupation with
Earlier sustainable farming practices such as mixed cropping,
staggered sowing and the cultivation of drought-resistant crops such as coarse
cereals, millets and mixed-use grain and fodder, and have given way to new
techniques and cash crops such as soybean, sunflower, castor, Bt cotton, pulses,
etc which require a lot of inputs.
Many farmers had taken loans from local money lenders to
invest in these crops. The failure of these crops has led to massive
indebtedness among many farmers, especially the small and marginal ones, causing
numerous suicides in the area.
The lack of alternate livelihood forces has led to a flood of
migration out of Bundelkhand — as much as 1.25 lakh a month. This has aggravated
the distress of the people left behind — the aged and women, disrupted
children’s education, led to loss of control over land and diluted traditional
The government has allocated a compensation of Rs 1,200/acre
to farmers whose crops have failed. But there are loopholes in the scheme — only
those who sow get relief, those who do not anticipating poor rainfall do not;
compensation is given according to old revenue records which show a single piece
of land owned by 18-20 people; also each of these owners has to be present to
collect the cheque.
Tanks and reservoirs in the area have dried up because they
are not de-silted regularly causing traditional fishermen from the Kewat and
Dhimar communities to lose their livelihoods. The beedi industry in Sagar
district is also slowly being shifted elsewhere, rendering high unemployment in
the area. Besides, wages are extremely low, there is sexual exploitation of
women workers and child labour. The tribals who live in the forests of Panna and
Damoh have been affected by the depletion in forest cover and illegal mining.
These Bundelkhand districts are covered under the Backward
Region Grant Fund; the Central government also sanctioned Rs 7,266 crore in 2009
as a Bundelkhand Special Package. These funds are being used mostly for
water-harvesting schemes and to build canals and dams, but in the absence of
proper checks, the quality of construction is poor and there are funds leakages
owing to corruption.