(News) Sustainable livelihoods for Dalits and Tribals in Bundelkhand Region

Sustainable livelihoods for Dalits and Tribals in Bundelkhand Region

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 poor returns.

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 culture.

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.

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Courtesy: actionaid