In Faizabad district, eastern Uttar Pradesh, drought wears an unlikely colour. Paddy fields (the last of the monsoon (kharif) harvest run alongside the NH28, glistening in a iridescent green. While Bundelkhand and other districts in the state reeling under a second consecutive drought and fourth successive crop failure look brown and parched, Faizabad appears lush. “Don’t be fooled by how the crop looks,” a farmer in Jamunipur village tells us. “They appear green because of the khaad (fertiliser), but there is no strength in the seed. This time, there will be no rice from this crop,” he says, tearing up a few weightless paddy plants.
On November 19, after months of avoidable delay, the Uttar Pradesh government declared drought in 50 of the state’s 75 districts. Rainfall has been 53.5 per cent below normal, making UP the eighth state in the country to declare drought. In the last three years, the number of drought-hit districts in UP have steadily risen, from 20 districts in 2013-14 to 50 in the current year. Faizabad is one of the worst-hit districts of the state. Earlier this year, 73 out of 75 UP districts were struck by thunder and hailstorms. The unseasonal rainfall wreaked havoc on the rabi yield of wheat, potato, and mango crops in March, to the tune of Rs 870 crore. A below average monsoon in the following months hasn’t helped either. Farmers across the state are staring at huge losses of their kharif crop, even as they start sowing for this year’s winter rabi season.
Maniram is a small-scale farmer in Rajapur village, Faizabad district. His wheat crop was damaged in the March hailstorm. At the time, the state government released Rs 500 crore of relief in two tranches spread over March and April. “My fields were not surveyed for crop damage then, and they haven’t been surveyed even now,” says Maniram. Across the district, farmers tell us that they have received only Rs 1,500 in compensation so far. Surveys for crop loss assessment both times have been conducted arbitrarily, the farmers say. “Lekhpals visited our village, but they sat in a room, drank chai, wrote down their reports without surveying a single parcel of land,” adds Maniram.
In Kazipur village, Harish Pratap Chauhan also received a cheque for Rs 1,500. For a large landholding of almost 24 beegha (about five acres) and a family of six, this was a paltry sum of money. “My father received the cheque. We cultivated wheat in 12 beegha and incurred an expenditure of Rs 30,000 on irrigating the land, on urea, pesticides, labour and transport. What are we supposed to do with just Rs 1500,” says Chauhan.
When Khabar Lahariya contacted Upper Zilla officials on the absence of surveys and adequate compensation, we were simply redirected from one officer to another. No explanation was provided. Some Faizabad farmers are yet to receive compensation for crop losses due to the hailstorm. Now, with a below normal monsoon, the kharif crop has also taken a beating. The state government is yet to announce a relief package for the drought. Meanwhile, all revenue realisation has been halted until March, 2016. But for farmers, these measures do not even provide temporary succor. Caught in an annual cycle of debt and deprivation, the state government’s aid is too little, and too late.
When was the crop loss survey held? Was it delayed? Does it reflect an accurate picture of on ground reality? According to a few farmers from Maya block, the survey should’ve been conducted a month ago. In drought-affected Bundelkhand, Khabar Lahariya reported that the survey conducted last week for the entire region took just four hours. Here, most of the kharif paddy has been harvested, and the fields have been ploughed to sow the next batches of wheat, potato and sugarcane. The paddy harvest was so poor that most of the produce was fed to the livestock. Paddy purchase centres that opened up shop in Faizabad in the first week of November have managed to procure only one quintal of rice from farmers. “I have six bheega of land. I grew paddy in two beegha. I had to harvest all of it, it had gone bad. My land was not surveyed. Even for the wheat crop that was damaged in the hailstorm, only four-five farmers from my village received compensation. And they were all members of the pradhan’s family,” says Nirmal Yadav from Bhitari village.
Farmer Nankan from Bhitari village took loans to irrigate his lands. When the water from the neighbouring village pump failed to irrigate his crops, he called in private tankers. “How many of us can rely on one pump,” he says. “I spent Rs 5,000 on water alone, but it didn’t reach in time. The soil lay dry and thirsty.” The inadequate harvest has now left him in debt. Farmer Govind Yadav says, “Our village pradhan has installed a generator for his farm. Six tanks were to be installed, only three are up, none of which has supplied water because the pipes were not laid out.” Or consider farmer Ankit’s case: To irrigate his wheat, paddy and urad crop, he pays Rs 120 per hour for water from a pump set, situated a few fields away. Just one round of irrigation takes 10 hours and he needs at least four to five rounds for a good yield. “We couldn’t do so many rounds because of our outstanding debt, so we have no produce this year.”
For women farmers, such as Sona Devi and Phoolkali from Bhitari village, the going is tougher. From managing their households to tilling the land, the woman farmer carries additional burden but receives no compensation or recognition from the state. “We take care of the house along with intensive field work but we don’t get any compensation. I have four girls and two boys, who are married with two children. There are no government tubewells nearby, no electricity. Some days we get rotis to eat, most days, we sleep on hungry stomachs,” says Sona Devi.
This year, say Faizabad farmers, the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) has been very poor. “We haven’t received wages, now there are no jobs to do,” says Govind Yadav. According to a recent public interest litigation (PIL) filed in the Supreme Court, the centre has, in total, a wage liability of Rs 3200 crore under the social sector scheme. In Uttar Pradesh, delays in compensation under MGNREGA currently account for around Rs 36 crore in 2014-15. Many farmers have begun to fall back on small labour like carpentry or construction. Without steady incomes from farming or MGNREGA, Faizabad famers’ likelihood of falling into poverty is only increasing. For others, distress migration is the only other option.
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