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Surinder Sud: To Bundelkhand's rescue

The parched region finally gets some attention

Surinder Sud  |  New Delhi 

Bundelkhand, a rain-starved and backward region that falls under Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, is ill-famed for a spate of farmers’ suicides owing to repeated crop failures. The region has indeed been a victim of unfavourable natural conditions and administrative neglect. Despite being a highly drought-prone zone, the available river and groundwater resources have been largely untapped owing to lack of development initiatives.

The British deliberately neglected this area because of its role in the 1857 revolt. But successive governments after Independence, too, did not pay due attention to it since no IAS officer would want to be posted in the region for extended periods because of its harsh living conditions.

In recent years, the region has seen hundreds of farmers commit suicide because of droughts, which spurred the Centre to come to the region’s rescue. The special Rs 7,266-crore Bundelkhand drought mitigation package that was approved in November 2009 and is being implemented since 2010 is expected to change the face of this parched tract. J S Samra, chief executive officer of the National Rainfed Area Authority (NRAA), who had chaired the inter-ministerial central team that had devised the Bundelkhand package and is also involved in coordinating development activities, seems confident of achieving good results. The changes being brought in the farming and animal husbandry systems will improve people’s living standards.

Paradoxically, contrary to the common practice of large-scale planting in the kharif (rainy) season than in the relatively rainless rabi season, Bundelkhand farmers sow only 30 per cent of the crops in kharif and 70 per cent in rabi. This is despite the fact that much of the region’s arable land is totally rain-dependent. The reason for this is perhaps the prevalence of “ana pratha”, a local tradition in which cattle are left to graze freely during a certain period that normally coincides with the kharif season. This leads to widespread destruction of crops, deterring farmers from seeding their farms in this season. Kharif sowing is now being encouraged so that farmers can take advantage of the rainwater available during the monsoon months.

The highest priority under the Bundelkhand package has naturally being given to water management — both rainwater harvesting and better exploitation of existing water resources by developing canal systems and constructing dug wells. Simultaneously, efforts are on to improve the breed of cattle so that livestock husbandry can supplement household incomes and serve as a cushion against crop failures.

Construction work on the Kutni dam on river Ken’s tributary – which had been on since 1978 – was completed thanks to this package in just 18 months. Water storage has begun in this dam and it will supplement the flow of the canal system fed by it to irrigate crop fields. Similarly, attempts are being made to expand the canal network based on the Beriarpur Weir on the Ken to irrigate more areas in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The Weir was constructed in 1903 but had remained under-utilised for a want of water-distribution channels.

A unique feature of the available groundwater in Bundelkhand is that it can be accessed only through dug wells; tube wells do not normally work in the region. Interestingly, a large number of dug wells were constructed under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), but most of these were unused for lack of water-lifting devices. Small diesel-operated pumps are now being provided to harness water from these wells. New wells are being dug by converging the resources available under the MGNREGS and the Bundelkhand package. Forest development funds are also being used for rainwater harvesting.

Given that most cattle in the region are small and poor milk yielders, attempts are being made to improve their breed through artificial insemination (AI). Non-government organisations with good track records are being involved in providing AI facilities. Several milk collection and chilling centres have come up in the area. A dual-purpose (milk and meat) breed of goats, Barbari, has been introduced to supplement the incomes of landless people.

However, the duration of the package, in its present form, is for three years only and will end in March 2012. There is a need to extend it so that the good work being done under it gets completed and begins yielding enduring results.  

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First Published: Tue, September 06 2011. 00:28 IST