India

Bundelkhand: Farmers struggle, blame corruption in banks and Modi’s unfulfilled promises for their plight

Many farmers complained that they were saddled with loans that they neither asked for nor received. yet, they are being forced to return the amount with interest.

Bundelkhand: Farmers struggle, blame corruption in banks and Modi’s unfulfilled promises for their plight

Nilanjana Bhowmick

Mannu Lal, a farmer in Deora village of Jhansi district in UP, used the Kisan Card to take a loan of ₹42,000 after which he took a second loan of ₹1,07,000. He paid off his first loan and used the rest of the money towards agricultural expenses. Later, he would learn that the bank had hiked his limit by another ₹32,000. But the amount was taken out of the account soon after.

“I don’t know what happened to that ₹32,000. They will not explain it to me properly. I am uneducated, I don’t understand the technical terms that they throw at me. All I understand is that I didn’t get to use this money but I have to pay it back. And to pay it back, I will have to mortgage some of my fields,” he said, showing the documents.

Between Noida in western Uttar Pradesh and the upper reaches of Bundelkhand, farmers are struggling to make ends meet, to sell their crops at a fair price, to reap the benefits of flagship government schemes, struggling to understand what benefits and schemes actually mean for them, and why despite Modi’s promise of rooting out corruption from all levels of society, they are still reeling from its effects. Travelling through villages in UP, one thing became crystal clear. Chowkidar Modi has not just failed to curb larger corporate corruption but also corruption at the village level.

“Not a single bank manager will approve a scheme for us without charging us a commission,” a resident of Kainthi village in Hamirpur district said.

Chowkidar Modi has also failed to curb corruption at the village level 

Almost 65% of the people of UP depend on agriculture. The state has an estimated 18.05 million households and accounts for about 20% of all agricultural households in the country.

“We voted for Modi because there was a tsunami of support for him and we got swayed by that. Every one kept saying, ‘Vote for Modi, he will bring in change’. What change? We are exactly where we were five years ago,” 71-year-old Chiranjilal said.

“We have to pay for harvesting our crops. We have to pay for watering our crops. And other expenses like seeds, fertilisers have only gone up. The government has done nothing for us,” he added.

The farmers in these villages of Bundelkhand have no harvesters. They have to hire the services of richer farmers from Haryana and Punjab who roam around the country during harvest time with their harvesters. They charge upwards of ₹700 for harvesting one bigha of land. Most of these farmers also have to buy water from those fortunate farmers who have taps or tubewells on their fields. It costs them ₹700 and upwards to water a bigha of land. And their troubles do not end there.

Herds of stray cattles have been ruining their night’s sleep. With the emergence of violent cow vigilante groups and cow-related lynchings being reported from across the country, farmers are staying away from selling cattle. But, they can’t afford to keep them either. So, they are letting them loose. With stray cows roaming around the villages in huge herds, the farmers and their families are taking turns to sleep on the fields to protect their crops.

“We can’t sell the cows, we can’t retain them. What do we do? The government should announce a retainer fee for cows that will encourage farmers to not abandon them. If the government doesn’t take action soon, farmers will die from this menace,” Ajit Singh, a farmer who had come to sell dried peas at a wholesale market in Rath town in the Hamirpur district, said.

In Telipahari village in Mahoba district, Jaswant Singh said he lost 90% of his produce after stray cattle destroyed the crops. “I don’t know what to do. Who is going to compensate me?” he asked.

In the past few years, many farmers have even committed suicides in the region after stray cattle destroyed their crops. But the government is yet to take note.

Many farmers in UP committed suicide after stray cattle destroyed their crops 

Rural India had voted for change in 2014, swayed by Modi’s promise of a corruption-free society, free housing, toilets and other development schemes. They have got nothing. And this is uniform across almost all the major districts in Bundelkhand, a region that has already been suffering from drought over the last seven years and needed greater attention from the government.

Take for example, the free rural housing scheme or the Pradhan Mantri Gramin Awaas Yojana, previously known as the Indira Awaas Yojana, a social welfare programme that aims to benefit the rural poor in India. “A total of 1.07 crore rural houses have been completed over the last four years (2014-15 to 2017-18) which include completion of 38.20 lakh Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojana – Gramin (PMAY- G) houses and 68.64 lakh IAY houses that were sanctioned in 2014-15 and 2015-16 and prior to that. If the figures of the current financial year are also added to this achievement under the rural housing scheme, the achievement from 2014-15 till date becomes 1.13 crore completed rural houses,” a Press Information Bureau (PIB) statement had said in August last year. “The completed PMAY-G houses are changing the rural landscape and bringing social transformation in villages across the country,” it had added.

This is how. Narendra Kumar Arhwar, a resident of Mauranipur in Jhansi district, pointed to a half-built house with no walls and a huge dug-up hole in the middle.

“They forced me to tear down my house. The officials came, took pictures with me. And then, I didn’t receive the instalments for the house anymore. Now I am living in a rented house with three children. However small, or makeshift, at least we had a roof over our heads. Now I don’t know what to do,” he said.

He got the first installment of ₹50,000 and then nothing. “I keep running from pillar to post but the government officials drive me away saying there’s nothing for you,” he said. “They are playing with the poor people,” he added with a sigh. “We keep hearing that people have got houses but we never meet these people. We have got nothing,” his neighbour Janki Prasad quipped.

But in every village, the village head’s house stands as a model of the PM’s housing project - a grand mansion that mocks the rows of dilapidated, makeshift houses that surround it.

“Politicians and the mediapersons come and sit with the village head and go back and sing praises as to how much our villages are progressing,” Dhiran, a young resident of Kainthi village, said.

And it just doesn’t stop with the houses. Even to avail toilets under the Swachh Bharat Mission scheme, the villagers have to pay. In almost every village over a 500- km radius, villagers said the toilets they get would have hardly cost ₹4,000 although the allocation stands at ₹12,000 per toilet. This would explain the caricatures they receive in the name of toilets. They are tin-boxes with a board for roof and a toilet pan meant to support a toddler. They lie unused. Open defecation is a hard reality in rural India. Swachh Bharat Mission might have built toilets but it has not eradicated open defecation - not even in villages that were declared to be open defecation free - which was the aim of building the toilets. And if you add up the amount of money per toilet that is being pocketed by officials, you are talking about a scam that runs into thousands of crores of Rupees.

“We got money for building a house but had to pay the pradhan ₹15,000 out of that. So, we couldn’t build a toilet. We go to the fields with the other women,” Rajyashri, a resident of Deora village said. The unfinished toilet stands in a corner, doubling as a store room, with a dug pit in one corner.

Across districts, officials and village heads are also pocketing allocations under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), that guarantees 100 days of work per household in rural areas.

“MGNREGA, in its revamped form, with record allocation of ₹48,000 crore for FY 17, is being used as an efficient tool to support incomes for marginal farmers and landless labourers,” a PIB press release had said in 2017. “Rural Development Ministry is also making use of satellite based geo- tagging to check any leakages and assess actual asset creation under MGNREGA. With mass scale opening of Jandhan bank accounts of urban and rural poor, 96% MGNREGA wages are now being directly transferred to their accounts under Direct Benefit Scheme, compared to just 13% in 2013-14 under UPA government,” it had added.

But direct transfer of the wages has not stopped the pradhans from pocketing the money.

“The pradhan signs up people for MGNREGA, people who are not labourers, and when the money come to their accounts, he makes them sign it away to him,” Ghanaram, another resident of Deora village, alleged. Kainthi’s Dhiran confirmed this.

“My father was told that some money had come to his account that belongs to the pradhan. He was taken to the bank, paid a day’s fee and asked to sign on a piece of paper to withdraw the money,” the young man said.

His father is dismissive. “I am not a labourer. I am a farmer. But I have to live in this village. So, I prefer not to raise a hue and cry about this. What can one do? Corruption is a reality,” Daddaji, as he is popularly known as, said.

The PIB press release had also claimed that over two crore poor families were provided with deposit-free LPG connections within one year of the launch of the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana. It had claimed that by March 2019, almost the entire BPL population would get covered. The government had claimed in December last year that the initial target of 5 crore connections was achieved well before the target i.e. 31st March, 2019 and that by Dec. 05, 2018, more than 5.83 crore connections were released under the scheme. But these connections, while deposit-free on paper, have come at a cost to the villagers.

In Mauranipur, residents, who got the LPG connections, had to pay ₹500 each. It was the same all across Bundelkhand. “We had heard that the gas cylinders will come free, but only those who paid ₹500 got them,” Kasturi, a resident of Mauranipur said.

“We do not care about political parties. We care about a government that will look after us. This government has destroyed farmers. This government is a government of the rich. We were taken for a ride once, not again. We will never vote for them again,” said Deora’s Chiranjilal.

(The writer is a senior journalist)

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Published: 15 Apr 2019, 2:04 PM