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INSIGHT

Drought by Design: Hamirpur, Lalitpur, Banda, Chitrakut and


Mahoba) and the six districts of MP (Datia,

The Man-made Calamity Tikamgarh, Panna, Damoh, Chhatarpur and


Sagar) spread over an area of 70,000 sq km

in Bundelkhand form the Bundelkhand region. It has a


population of 15.5 million people. The
region is famous for the reign of Bundela
(16th-18th century AD) and Chandela
Perspectives (10th-13th century AD) kingdoms, Rani of
Jhansi and the legendary king Chhatrasal,

T
Despite its rich resources like he failure of south-west monsoon the temples of Khajuraho, the tiger sanc-
forests and minerals, Bundelkhand in 2009 has, for once, drawn an tuary and the diamond mines of Panna.
attention towards agriculture in But in the last four to five years, it has been
is a region of distress and crisis. A
our country. Newspapers and television in the news for the drought conditions and
study finds that the distress of the channels in July, August, September and distress that has plagued it. There have been
region simply cannot be explained October were filled with news of distress reports of mass migration, starvation deaths,
by the absence or irregularity of from different parts of the country. Drying farmer suicides and even the “mortgaging”
up of lakes and fights over water in of women over the years. According to the
rainfall. There are long-term
Bhopal, empty reservoirs of big dams, more J S Samra Committee report, on draught
structural problems which have farmer suicides in Andhra Pradesh and mitigation strategy for Bundelkhand, his-
had a cumulative effect over the Vidarbha, migration from parts of Bihar torically, the Bundelkhand region of UP
years. Reasons for the present and Bundelkhand, distress sale of cattle and MP had a drought every 16 years in
(one of the most valuable assets of peasant 18th and 19th centuries, which increased by
unviability of agriculture should
households), informal loans at usurious three times during the period 1968 to 1992.
be sought in the historically rates for arranging irrigation, and aban- The most recent and continued period of
determined social relations of donment of cattle at the famous Pushkar poor rainfall recorded in Bundelkhand
production, the intimate fair of Rajasthan – all underlined once was in 2004-07, when below average and
again, the monsoon dependence and vul- erratic rain was reported in most parts of
correlation of caste and
nerability of agriculture in our country. the region in all the years.
landownership in the region as However, as the kharif season ended
well as the neglect of traditional and October witnessed a spell of heavy A Region Without Hope
water management systems and rainfall in some parts of the country, the The week preceding our visit had wit-
concern for agriculture receded as well, nessed some rainfall, so the dry and
the push towards cultivation of
just like the south-west monsoon. The parched earth landscape usually associat-
water-intensive commercial crops. government has even announced that the ed with drought conditions were absent.
problems of rural economy will be taken However, the greenery, as the villagers
care of, if the rabi (winter) crop is success- told us, was deceptive. The untimely rain-
ful. In order to understand the impact of fall had adversely affected the arhar, til
drought, in October 2009, a 13-member and moong crops (these pulses had been
team from Perspectives visited three dis- sown late in view of the deficient rains),
tricts of Bundelkhand, a region known for and allowed the growth of poisonous field
its history of drought-proneness. grasses, which were unfit for cattle con-
sumption. As a newspaper reported, “Wild
Bundelkhand grass has taken over farm lands, growing
Bundelkhand is the name of the cultural- indiscriminately and giving the illusion of
geographic region in central India, which drought-recovery”.
is bounded by Vindhyan Plateau in south, There was no illusion of recovery
Yamuna river in north, Ken river in east amongst the villagers though. The narrow
and rivers Betwa and Pahuj in west. dust filled lanes of the villages, stray cattle
Perspectives (contact.perspectives@gmail.com) Despite a long-standing demand for auto- on the roads (abandoned by their owners
is a non-funded group of students and teachers nomy and statehood, Bundelkhand remains because there is not enough fodder or
of Delhi University working to create a space administratively divided between Uttar water), broken mud huts, the few utensils
for debate and discussion on issues of social, Pradesh (UP) and Madhya Pradesh (MP). and implements that were all the material
economic and political relevance.
The seven districts of UP (Jhansi, Jalaun, possessions in the households, and the
Economic & Political Weekly EPW january 30, 2010 vol xlv no 5 33
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children with brown hair, distended bel- poverty and migration of such magnitude to political and social power in Bun-
lies and bow legs, tragically illustrated the and scale. delkhand. Families belonging to the upper
abject poverty of the region and its people. and middle castes (Thakur, Rajput, Yadav
The Dhimar mohalla (whose traditional Lives and Livelihoods and Lodhi) own large landholdings of 50
caste occupation is fishing and other wa- Agriculture forms the backbone of the to 250 bighas, while the dalit families
ter-related activities) in Ragholi village in rural economy in Bundelkhand. However, (Chamar, Basod, Koli) were almost uni-
Chhatarpur did not even have electricity the soil and semi-arid climatic conditions formly landless or marginal farmers. The
in their households. of the region (characterised by recurrent dominant castes occupied positions of
There was a winding queue of women floods as well as drought) make cultiva- power in the panchayats (and other local
carrying pitchers, buckets and drums, in tion an extremely difficult occupation administrative bodies) and benefited from
front of the lone water tank with four taps with uncertain returns for the farmers. all the government schemes and financial
in Adhiyara village (Chhatarpur), when Both the red and the black soils found resources, even in cases where the pan-
we reached there at 11 in the morning. across the region have poor organic con- chayat seats were officially reserved for
Women of the dominant caste families tent. The red soil has poor phosphate and the scheduled castes. The pradhan (pan-
were given preference for drawing water, nitrogen content; hence, it is not suitable chayat president) of Dhanauri village
and the dalit women got water only in the for farming. Most of the cultivation is rain- (Hamirpur) owned 50 acres of land.
end. When the rains fail completely for fed in nature. Only 44% of the net sown Sukhiya of Jalalpur village (Hamirpur)
successive years, the situation is like this area in the seven districts lying in UP and narrated how Thakurs of the neighbour-
in all villages of the region. Villagers of 46% of the net sown area in the six dis- ing Kheda village had taken over 25 bighas
Adhiyara had to take drinking water from tricts of MP are irrigated by some or the of land owned by her family. Rajput fami-
the pond used by their cattle in case of other means, i e, major or medium irriga- lies controlled the bore wells used for irri-
severe shortage. The peasants and the local tion schemes, surface water sources or gation in Teeli village in Mahoba district.
activists told us that the water in the lakes groundwater.1 The traditional crops of the The poor and landless families in the vil-
and ponds of Bundelkhand today, would region are millets (jowar and bajra), pulses, lages complained that the upper caste
dry up in a month or so, and then the vil- mustard (lahi) and linseed. In fact, Bun- landowners possessed below poverty line
lagers will be dependent on the tube wells delkhand was known as the bowl of pulses (BPL) ration cards, while they possessed
(sometimes, in other villages) or water for the country (just as Punjab was known above poverty line (APL) cards. There was
supply tankers, provided at the whims and as the breadbasket). The cultivators here evidence of caste-based discrimination as
fancies of the district administration. grew linseed (alsi), arhar, masoor, and til well. The dalit families of Ragholi village
What we witnessed in Bundelkhand was for sale in the market. But the drive for said that their women were abused by the
much more and worse than the ravages of water-intensive commercial crops (like Thakurs when they went to fetch drinking
a failed monsoon. The entire economy of wheat), which are unsuited for the agro- water from the private wells. Wages for
the region has collapsed. There has been climatic conditions of Bundelkhand, has agricultural work were paid with a delay
massive migration, where millions of people reduced the acreage under pulses. of 8-10 days, and needless to say, much
have left their villages to come to cities like The yield of crops is low. Farmers in lesser than the legal minimum wages.
Delhi, Mumbai, Mainpuri, Etawah, Aligarh Mamna village (Hamirpur) told us that Deeply rooted caste and class hierarchies
and Lucknow to work in the brick kilns, they get only 3-4 quintals of wheat per permeate every aspect of social and eco-
pull rickshaws or labour as construction bigha when there is adequate water availa- nomic life of the people, from access to
workers. The “drought” has now lasted for ble (1 bigha equals 0.4 acre approximately).2 basic resources like water to the function-
more than 10 years, with the exception of In drought conditions, the output declines ing of government-funded schemes like
2008 when rainfall was adequate. This to one quintal per bigha. Similarly, the the public distribution system (PDS) and
continuous failure of rainfall has meant yield of arhar is two quintals per bigha in National Rural Employment Guarantee
that agricultural land can neither provide case of adequate rainfall. Sometimes, Scheme (NREGS).
work for the landless labourers, nor can when the rains fail completely, the crop The shifts in cropping pattern, mecha-
it provide sustenance or livelihood to yield is less than the amount of the seed nisation and the introduction of hybrid
the cultivators who are dependent on it. sown. According to farmers in Mamna, a varieties of seeds have brought new
Villagers told us that if we had arrived 10 family has to possess at least 20 bighas of problems with them in Bundelkhand.
days later, that is after Diwali, we would land to subsist on agriculture. Any family Commercial cultivation of water-intensive
have found most of the villages empty and which owns less land is forced to work as crops like soybean (in the districts of
devoid of all the able-bodied members. labourers in the village or migrate. MP), cotton and wheat have meant increas-
There were three starvation deaths in We saw in the different villages that ing demands on the scarce water resources
Maudaha block of Hamirpur district in cultivable land and other natural resources and made drought resistance even more
this season and 18 farmer suicides in Lalit- are inequitably distributed across classes difficult. Traditional crops like gram, alsi
pur district in 2008. The question then and castes in the region. Caste is an im- and mustard have long roots, which makes
before us is whether the failure of rainfall portant determinant of access to natural them more compatible with the arid topo-
is an adequate explanation for distress, resources like forests, land and water, and graphy of the region. Indigenous seed
34 january 30, 2010 vol xlv no 5 EPW Economic & Political Weekly
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varieties like gathiya (a variety of wheat) found almost no beneficial presence of the The NREGS has been a complete failure
required little water and no fertilisers, and government – functioning schools, health in all the districts of the region. There is
were thus suited to the climate of the re- centres, aanganwadi, integrated child deve- little effective employment being provided
gion; they have disappeared after intro- lopment services (ICDS) centres or ration under the scheme, with there being not
duction of high-yielding variety (HYV) shops – in the villages we visited. The only one active work site visible in any of the
seeds. The machines used for ploughing exception was the village revenue official villages. A number of families possess job
leave bigger fissures in the soil which (lekhpal) we met in Mamna, moving cards which legally bind the government
causes a greater loss of moisture. around in his bicycle distributing cheques to give them employment within 15 days
In sum, it can be said that agriculture under the “agricultural grant scheme” to of applying for work, but in vain. Only
does not even fulfil the subsistence the villagers. The villagers said that this those who are close to the village pradhan
requirements of the majority of the people, was in lieu of the failed crop of that season. have received any benefit from the scheme.
especially the lower castes, landless and The amount fixed was Rs 320 per acre for Others, who were able to gain employment,
the poor. There are virtually no industries, all peasants who own less than five acres complained of having worked about five to
work or opportunities for employment of land and a fixed amount of Rs 2,000 per six months ago, without having received a
outside agriculture in the region (except acre for landholdings above five acres. single paisa till date. Harish Kumar of
mining, which will be discussed later). We That this meagre amount is grossly insuf- Mamna village showed us his two-year old
witnessed basket weaving using stems of ficient to cover for a season’s crop losses job card which did not have a single entry.
the arhar crop in Mamna village. The in- does not need to be said. The insensitivity He got work for one and a half months and
come for the weavers is barely Re 1 per of the government is underlined by the even sustained an injury while working but
basket. One person can earn Rs 50 in a day fact that only those cultivators who had is still waiting to be paid. We were shown
from basket weaving. The dalit landless actually sown the crop are entitled to at least 10 empty job cards in Mamna. In
labourers have to harvest the arhar crop of drought relief; those who did not sow in some cases, the scheme, instead of creat-
the cultivators, store it in the godowns for anticipation of the poor rainfall remain ing public utilities has resulted in ponds
free and then pay Rs 1,000-1,500 to ac- excluded. Agricultural workers and share- being constructed exclusively for the use
quire a trolley of stems (which can be used croppers are automatically excluded be- of the pradhan and his family (belonging
to make 200-250 baskets). Clearly, this cause they do not own any land. It is also to the dominant castes, of course). Last
was an occupation which the small and an example of cruel humour that Hamirpur year, 10 crore trees were planted in Hamir-
marginal farmers and agricultural labour- district has not been declared drought pur within one or two months under
ers resorted to, more out of desperation affected by the UP government, despite NREGS. The responsibility to oversee the
than out of choice. the fact that all the adjacent districts have work was given to the forest, irrigation
Desperation inevitably leads to migra- been so declared.3 and electricity departments which utilised
tion. Thousands of men and women leave The people have been left to fend for it as an opportunity for unbridled corrup-
their homes after November and migrate themselves for all the basic necessities of tion. The saplings were thrown in the for-
to the brick kilns in Etawah, Lucknow and life – nutrition, drinking water, health, ests and in the wells.
Mainpuri. Or, they go to cities like education and social security. The govern-
Jabalpur, Indore, Bhopal, Delhi or Mumbai ment schools are in an abominable condi- Natural Resources of the Region
where they work as manual labourers and tion with not more than one primary school Bundelkhand is (or more accurately, has
construction workers. They return only in for every two villages. The nearest high been) a region rich in resources like forests
June when it is time for sowing the kharif school is 18 kms away from Jalapur village and minerals (diamond, granite, sand-
crop. The adolescent boys and girls also go (Hamirpur). One of the parents com- stone, limestone, iron, rock phosphates,
with them, either to work themselves or to plained “We can either feed our children pyrophylites, dolomites and marble). We
take care of the infants. Villagers reported or spend money on the transportation to saw the rampant – sometimes, illegal –
that only the old and the infirm were left send them to school”. Teachers did not come exploitation of these natural resources but
in the villages during this period, with no to school on most days in Mamna village very few benefits accruing to the local
one to take care of them. Life is not easy at (Hamirpur) and parents said that they people. Our journey from Harpalpur (Chh-
the brick kilns; two people can make 500 sent their children only for the mid-day atarpur) to Rath (Hamirpur) on the first
to 700 bricks in a day and a 1,000 bricks meal. The school in Dhanori village was not day was revealing enough. The 40 km-
fetches as low as Rs 350. But there is not open when the team visited the village. long road once had such a dense tree cover
any choice. The government, after all, has The primary health centres in villages on both sides that there was no sunlight
forsaken the region and its people. were either absent or dysfunctional. Preg- visible on it. Today, all that remains are
nant women in Ragholi village had to be some old trees which have been spared
Where There Is No Welfare taken to Chhatarpur town for delivery; a here or there. There has been massive de-
In the midst of such despair and distress, one way trip costs Rs 400. The only func- forestation in Bundelkhand during coloni-
what came across as striking was the com- tion that government hospitals in the al rule and afterwards. The imli, shisham
plete absence of all the welfare schemes area did perform was illegal sex-selective and mahua trees, typical of the region, are
and functions of the government. We abortions for a bribe. no longer found in abundance. The forest
Economic & Political Weekly EPW january 30, 2010 vol xlv no 5 35
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area including the scrub forests is now One of the enduring images that have benefit from this kind of destructive min-
only 8.79% of the geographical area in stayed with us was that of the huge craters ing were the local mining mafia, lorded
Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh and in the ground – 250 feet deep – at Kabrai; over by the dominant caste politicians,
26.24% in Madhya Pradesh. According to mountains 400-450 feet high reduced to and the urban-industrial interests of big
the available estimates, 63% and 50% of craters by blasting due to granite mining. towns and cities.
the forests are degraded in the UP region According to Sumitra Seva Sansthan, a
and MP region, respectively.4 non-governmental organisation, 5,000 Water: The Missing Lifeline
While one of the reasons for this defor- trucks filled with granite leave Kabrai The major sources of water in Bundelkhand
estation may have been increasing need every day. And Kabrai is one of the numer- are the rivers Ken, Betwa, Dhasan, Baghain,
of the population for cultivable land and ous mining sites of limestone and granite Pahuj, their tributaries, rivulets and
forest resources (like timber), the other in Bundelkhand. Mining also happens to seasonal nallahs. The rivers dry up during
important reason is the commercial ex- be the only “industry” for the desperate the summer months, and lakes, ponds and
ploitation of forests by the colonial and people of the region. Dalits, landless agri- dug wells and bore wells remain the only
the post-colonial state. The declining cultural labourers and marginal farmers sources of water for human and animal
forest cover has only made the lives of the work in these mines in extremely hazard- consumption. The other source of water is
poor more difficult. The people of Ragholi ous conditions for pitifully low wages. Ac- rainfall. The average annual rainfall in
village told us that the forests were only cidental deaths due to blasting, loss of Bundelkhand varies between 75 cm and
1.5 km away from their village just two hearing, blindness due to flying stone chips 100 cm, 90% of which is experienced in
decades ago and it was relatively easy for (during the manual breaking of stones) the months of August and September. In
the women to get fuelwood. Now, the and silicosis are regular occurrences. the last 10 years, the number of rainy days
nearest forest is 5-7 km away. The women Kabrai mines have 165 stone crushers in has progressively gone down from 52 to 23
leave by 10 in the morning to get fuel- an area 20 km long. There are more than days per year, severely affecting the avail-
wood and reach back only by 4-5 in the 1,000 stone crushers in and around ability of water in the region.
evening. The forest department officials Mahoba which crush the stones mined Bundelkhand has historically been a
take bribe if the women are caught carry- from the hills. Industrialists of Delhi and drought-prone region. The ruling dynas-
ing fuelwood. Lucknow and even some multinational ties before the advent of colonial rulers,
The road to Rath was also full of corporations (MNCs) have invested in the Bundelas and Chandelas, had ensured
potholes: a proof of the convoy of heavy these mines. Thousands of acres of culti- the construction of an extensive network
trucks which travel on it every day carry- vable land have been spoiled because of of lakes and ponds across the region.
ing hundreds of tonnes of sand, granite the white dust which rises from the stone These were constructed in order to mini-
and limestone from Bundelkhand to cities crushing units. Cultivators of these lands mise surface run-off after rainfall and har-
like Lucknow, Kanpur, Bhopal and Delhi, have been reduced to labourers in the vest the rainwater. We witnessed one such
to be used in the construction of build- mines. The only people who seem to arrangement in Charkhari tehsil (Mahoba),
ings, malls and flyovers. We saw sand
mining on the banks of Betwa river near
Jalalpur (Hamirpur) and the granite Sixth 4-week Refresher Course in Public Economics
mines of Kabrai (spread over a distance of for the South Asian Region
50 km) in Mahoba.
NIPFP proposes to organize a four-week refresher training programme in
Illegal sand mining worth crores of Public Economics for the South Asian Region, during 10.5.2010 to 4.6.2010.
rupees takes place at various points on the The participants would be college or university teachers, faculty in research
banks of the Betwa river. Although the institutions, normally under 45 years of age. Preference would be given to
rule is that lease for sand mining be given teachers teaching Public Economics/Public Finance. The teachers who have
attended the programme in the past need not apply.
only to fishermen, powerful contractors
take the lease in the name of fishermen, The programme would be organized at the Institute premises. Participants
pay them a meagre amount and conduct would be reimbursed 2-AC train fares. All local hospitality would be provided
the mining. Sand mining has been going by the Institute.
on throughout the year for the past 20 Interested candidates may send their CV to the following address by
years. In a day, 1,000 trucks leave one spot April 1, 2010.
of mining, every truck carrying 40-46
Naveen Bhalla
tonnes of sand. This kind of sand mining
Senior Administrative Officer
is occurring in the Ken, Betwa and Dhasan National Institute of Public Finance and Policy
rivers of Bundelkhand. They have ruined 18/2 Satsang Vihar Marg
the livelihoods of fishermen in the region, Special Institutional Area [Near JNU]
besides affecting the course and water New Delhi - 110 067
levels of the river and adversely affecting E-mail: bhalla@nipfp.org.in Tel: 011 26569303 Fax: 011 26852548
groundwater recharge systems.
36 january 30, 2010 vol xlv no 5 EPW Economic & Political Weekly
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where a network of 11 interconnected because they could not repay the loans (3) The access to both agricultural land
reservoirs on top of the hills and in the taken for bore wells. and water – critical (and scarce) resources
valley had been constructed to harvest The drought period of 2003-08 dried for survival – is highly inequitable. The
rainwater. Similarly, the Vijay Sagar Lake out the traditional and masonry wells of class-caste hierarchies ensure that the
in Mahoba is one of the oldest lakes built the region, primarily used for drinking poor and the landless, mostly belonging
during the Chandela period in 1040 AD. water purposes. According to the Samra to the lower castes, are deprived of access
These traditional water management sys- Committee report, 70% of tanks and to these resources. In the absence of any
tems fell into disuse and disrepair during ponds dried up during this period. This other sources of non-farm employment
colonial rule and in independent India as caused a severe drinking water shortage (rural industries), they are forced to mi-
well. They were not cleaned regularly, silt crisis. According to various estimates, the grate to cities to earn a livelihood. Even
was allowed to deposit, the inlet channels 13 districts with population of around 16 the small and marginal farmers have to
for the rainwater were blocked and there million were provided water through migrate, at least for a part of the year,
was encroachment on these water bodies. 5,000 tankers during May-June 2008 for either because the rains fail or because
As a result, a major source of water secu- domestic and drinking purposes.6 The income from rain-fed agriculture is not
rity in the region has been eliminated. state governments of UP and MP deployed adequate for subsistence.
The destruction of these water bodies has police to “protect” these water tankers. (4) Economy and ecology are closely and
also limited the potential for groundwater The scarce water resources available for complexly interrelated in an agriculture
recharge. More importantly, the new irrigation, fisheries, human and animal dependent region like Bundelkhand.
water management systems that have consumption are distributed unequally When the natural resource base (water,
been created took no cognisance of either across caste-class hierarchies. Thus, we forests) of the region shrinks rapidly, it af-
the local ecology or topography, further were told that the Vijay Sagar Lake in fects the livelihood of the rural people,
ruining the water scenario in the region. Mahoba had been drained due to illegal disproportionately affecting the poor and
Also, deforestation in the region has led drawing of water through pumps by the the lower castes.
to a reduction in the effective resistance dominant caste farmers. The fishermen Mining and deforestation, which we
to the flow of rainwater, resulting in major of Dhimar mohalla in Ragholi village witnessed in the three districts, are char-
run-off during monsoon season. Instead (Chhatarpur) narrated how they were un- acteristic of the entire region. Amongst
of traversing a wider area, the rain water able to rear fish and grow singaras in the the first casualties of mining on the hills
forms into narrow streams, ravaging the land village lake because the peasants used up are the forests. Mining adversely affects
by eroding the top soil, forming gullies and all the water for irrigation. They had thus groundwater, surface water, and indeed,
causing significant degradation of land. been reduced to agricultural labourers the entire water cycle. Such ecologically
Mining, which has been described above, and migrant workers. destructive practices have a contributory
also affects the flow of surface water and the effect towards increasing the irregularity
underground water channels and aquifers, Explaining the Distress of rainfall patterns, declining ground-
further depleting the water resources. (1) Our field experience of Bundelkhand water recharge and worsen the overall
The “Ground Water Statistics” prepared has given us one definite conclusion: the water scarcity in the region. As one report
by the Central Ground Water Board in levels of distress and crisis in the region puts it,
1991 reported that of the total 70.008 cm cannot be explained simply by the absence
Granite quarrying and other forms of stone
per year rainfall that the region received, or irregularity of rainfall. In other words, quarrying in Bundelkhand has been flatten-
only 15% accounted for groundwater the government of the day cannot explain ing the hills and ruining the chances of their
recharge. The situation has only worsened away the crisis as a natural calamity, fail to afforestation, which is basic to the intercep-
due to the increasing deposits of shale and admit its own culpability and respond only tion of clouds and infiltration of rainwater
sandstone, which have poor water reten- with ad hoc and superficial relief measures. into the soil. Quarrying of granite has, more-
over, been causing large-scale deliberate de-
tion capacity, on land and on the surface (2) There are long-term structural problems
struction of precious groundwater. Since
of existing water reservoirs. The exploita- which have had a cumulative effect over granite formations run hundreds of metres
tion of groundwater has steadily increased the years. For example, reasons for the deep, the quarrying goes on becoming
with the cultivation of water-intensive present unviability of agriculture must be deeper; and the groundwater accumulations
crops like wheat and cotton. Groundwater sought in the historically determined that are encountered are regarded as obsta-
cles to the mining operation, hence thrown
levels have gone down due to the increas- social relations of production, the intimate
out to dry up on the surface area.7
ing dependence on bore wells and hand- correlation of caste and landownership in
pumps. Water is now available only at a the region, as well as the neglect of tradi- (5) The government of MP has allowed
depth of 150 feet to 250-300 feet. Older tional water management systems and multinational companies to survey and
bore wells have become defunct due to the the push towards cultivation of water- exploit the diamond resources of the region.
decline in groundwater and only the rich intensive commercial crops. Even the ACC Rio Tinto of Australia, De Beers of
can afford to sink bore wells deeper at a irregular rainfall is as much the effect of South Africa, BHP Minerals of Canada and
greater cost.5 Many peasants in Mamna deleterious human activity as it is the spe- the National Mineral Development Corpo-
village (Hamirpur) had lost their land cificity of the climate in Bundelkhand. ration (NMDC) were given permission to
Economic & Political Weekly EPW january 30, 2010 vol xlv no 5 37
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start survey and exploration of diamond (8) There are certain regions of our country which causes 40% of the farmers in our
mines in the Panna, Chhatarpur, Tikamgarh, which have become a source of cheap country desperate to leave their occupa-
Sagar, Angor and Majhgawan areas of the unskilled labour and raw materials (like tion (though they have no other option),
state. For example, ACC Rio Tinto had been minerals and forest resources) for the in- even when there is no drought. The dif-
issued four reconnaissance permits for dustrialisation and development of other ferent trajectories of agricultural devel-
10,000 sq km area in the Panna, Damoh parts of the country, especially the towns opment in different regions – land rela-
and Chhatarpur districts.8 The entry of and cities. What happens to the economy, tions, land reforms, introduction of mod-
MNCs will only increase the reckless ex- ecology and people of these peripheral ern techniques and technology, commer-
ploitation of the mineral resources, harm- regions is of no concern to the government. cial cultivation and integration with the
ing the ecology of the region without any Bundelkhand seems to have become such national and international market – have
concurrent benefits for the local economy a region in recent times. Whether it is the to be appreciated to understand the prob-
or the people. diamond, gold, granite, sand or limestone lems in each region. While the uncertain-
(6) The question that must be asked is which adds to the luxury and comforts of ties associated with commercial cultiva-
what factors have rendered the different the cities, or the migrant workers from the tion and withdrawal of state support
sections of the rural population completely region who ensure that wage labour is might be the reasons for distress in some
vulnerable to the vagaries of the monsoon. available in the cities at cheap rates, there regions, the highly unequal landowner-
What are the reasons behind the absence is a steady transfer of resources from ship patterns and technological back-
of mechanisms to cope with monsoon Bundelkhand to urban and industrial wardness might be acting as impediments
failure (whether in the form of buffer stocks, regions of the country. to agricultural growth in some other
harvesting and management of rainwater, parts of the country. A government which
livestock rearing or rural non-farm em- Conclusions cares only about the growth rates of the
ployment), which ultimately cause such There will be an estimated 18% decline in economy cannot and will not look into
massive distress and migration? the yield of the kharif crop all over the the reasons for the crisis in agriculture,
(7) Instead of trying to find answers to country, which includes rice, coarse cere- much of which is of its own making.
these questions and developing a holistic als and pulses, owing to the drought this
plan for the agricultural and industrial de- year. The sowing area of paddy – the most Notes
velopment of this cultural-geographic re- important kharif crop – has declined by 1 “Report on Drought Mitigation Strategy for Bun-
delkhand Region of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya
gion, the focus of the government seems 60 lakh hectares.9 Even as the govern- Pradesh” by the Inter-Ministerial Central Team
to be to treat Bundelkhand as a drought- ment worries only about the rise in food led by J S Samra, April 2008.
2 1 bigha equals 0.4 acres of land approximately.
prone region, and to implement “drought prices this is likely to cause, we want to
3 List of drought-affected districts on the govern-
mitigation measures”. It need not be ask what has been the fate of the lakhs of ment of India, web site: http://www.agricoop.nic.
reiterated that drought relief measures, cultivators who were unable to sow or in/DroughtMgmt/Drought_271109.pdf
4 J S Sarma report op cit.
like the distribution of money which we whose crop failed in the kharif season. 5 It costs Rs 2,50,000-Rs 3,00,000 to dig a private
witnessed, cannot make any dent on the How will they cope with this loss in in- bore well and Rs 50,000 for a bore well dug by the
irrigation department.
situation and they make a mockery of the come and livelihood? Will they be able to 6 Half Full Half Empty: Drought and Drinking
people’s desperation. feed their families through the year, pay Water Crisis in Bundelkhand, WaterAid India,
September 2008.
One of the drought mitigation measures the school fees of their children, and meet 7 Problems and Potentials of Bundelkhand with
the government is propagating in Bundel- the emergency health expenditures that Special Reference to Water Resource Base, CRDT,
IIT Delhi and VSK, Banda (UP), 1998.
khand and elsewhere is the NREGS, which arise from time to time? Or, have they 8 “Multinationals All Set to Enter Diamond Mining
it feels is sufficient to alleviate the distress been constrained to sell their assets (like in MP”, Business Standard, 1 June 2004.
9 “All Hopes on Rabi after Drought Pulls Kharif
in the rural areas. The basic objective of cattle) and forced deeper into the clutches Crop Down by 18%”, Indian Express, 4 November
the scheme is to provide a social safety of village moneylenders, arhatiyas and 2009.
net for vulnerable groups by making work seed and fertiliser distribution agents?
available at minimum wages at times What happens to the 56% workforce de-
when there are no other sources of work pendent on agriculture if the output of the Permission for Reproduction of
available. Even if the scheme works with sector faces a decline of 2%? Articles Published in EPW
100% efficiency (without any corruption), Just as the crisis in Bundelkhand can-
No article published in EPW or part thereof
it cannot alleviate distress in a situation not be explained by a simple failure of
should be reproduced in any form without
where the rural economy has completely rainfall, the distress caused by drought in
prior permission of the author(s).
collapsed (as in Bundelkhand) or in situa- other parts of the country also has a his-
tions of drought when all sections of tory of state neglect and discrimination. A soft/hard copy of the author(s)’s approval
the rural population are affected. The The drought-induced distress only under- should be sent to EPW.
reliance on NREGS by the government has lines and portrays the vulnerability of In cases where the email address of the
led it to ignore the structural factors the Indian farmers; the reasons for this author has not been published along with
responsible for the intensification of the vulnerability must be sought elsewhere. the articles, EPW can be contacted for help.
drought situation. It is the generalised crisis in agriculture
38 january 30, 2010 vol xlv no 5 EPW Economic & Political Weekly