The Bundelkhand region, comprising 13 districts in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, has been much discussed in recent years in terms of very adverse and uncertain weather conditions which have also been linked to climate change. In this context, special concern on the part of the government for expanding and improving development and welfare schemes is needed and expected so that badly needed relief can be provided to people in distress.
However, a recent visit to four villages and discussions with villagers revealed that in recent months, the exact reverse of this has been happening and in fact there is a steep decline in terms of access of people to development and welfare schemes. These four villages are located in Talbehat block of Lalitpur district, Uttar Pradesh. Their names are Gulenda (Sahariya basti), Laalon, Chak Laalon and Bharatpur.
One obvious issue relates to pensions. In all the four villages, the villagers said clearly that the access to pensions by elderly people, widows and disabled people has decreased considerably in recent times. Many of them said that earlier they were getting pension but they are not getting it now.
“Pension kat gai hai,” this was an expression one heard often in the group discussions. As all these villages have significant numbers of old and disabled people, in some cases with no one to look after them as the young work as migrant labourers, this reduced access to pensions has had very distressing implications for some of the most vulnerable people of these villages.
People of all the four villages said with one voice that they have not received any benefit under the crop insurance scheme
Access to nutrition supplements under the ICDS or Anganwadi programme has also reduced in recent times. People of two villages were emphatic about this while those in the other two also said very little is available. All of these four villages have suffered big losses in the last two years’ crops. Despite this, the people of all the four villages said with one voice that they have not received any benefit under the crop insurance scheme. Irrigation has not made any progress in recent times while more wells have been drying up. People of Gulenda Sahariya basti said that one canal is just one km away and they have been pleading for a long time for extending this to their villages. Bharatpur has a canal but no water in it. The drinking water crisis is very acute in all the four villages. However, till the time of our team’s visit, not even one of these villages was being served by water tankers.
People in all the four villages said that water shortage is their most important problem. A big initiative to sort out has been taken in only one of the four villages, namely Bharatpur, in the form of a pipeline scheme. But villagers said this was marred by corruption. The result is that water crisis is acute even in this village where some efforts were put in. In addition, availability of water under this scheme is linked to electricity supply.
And as there are frequent electricity failures, people have to wait endlessly for water. If the water crisis is acute for the human beings, it is even worse for the animals. People of Laalon and Chak Laalon villages said that farm and dairy animals are dying of thirst. When asked at the group meeting in Chak Laalon if a rough estimate of the number of deaths of farm and dairy animals this year from January to May can be provided, they said that about 100 animals have perished in their village alone.
The meagre rations under the public distribution system last for just around 10 days and it is difficult to purchase costly free market grain. Hence, three out of four villages suffer from hunger and malnutrition to a significant extent while in the fourth village too, this exists but to a somewhat lesser extent. The deteriorating life and livelihood conditions are evident from the high and increasing levels of migration. While NREGA works can make an important contribution to water harvesting and livelihood support, people in all the four villages said that during the last one year, NREGA work has either not been taken up or has been negligible.
A few persons also said that powerful persons are getting some work done by their heavy machines but showing it wrongly as NREGA work. Long delays in payment of wages are common. The deteriorating life and livelihood conditions of these villages are evident from the largescale migration taking place in three out of four villages. In the fourth village, most people belong to an upper caste and due to this social factor they do not migrate even though they may be having serious problems. On the day of our visit, almost all the Sahariya tribal families of Laalon village had left in the morning in search of work.
However, an increasing source of worry is that even in cities, employment is declining. So some of the migrants are returning empty handed. People in Gulenda Sahariya basti were talking about the pathetic case of one migrant worker Ravi who had returned from Delhi after walking for five days when this team left the village. (The writer is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and nitiatives.