Villages across drought-hit Bundelkhand, a hilly region divided between the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, are reporting an abnormally high number of cattle deaths due to acute shortage of fodder and water, said a survey released on Monday.
“For cattle the famine has arrived,” the survey by non-profit organization Swaraj Abhiyan said, adding, “41% of villages surveyed in Uttar Pradesh and 21% in Madhya Pradesh reported more than 10 starvation or poisoning related cattle deaths in the past one month”.
The survey found that 78% of villages in Uttar Pradesh and 62% in Madhya Pradesh reported a severe shortage of cattle fodder and drinking water. To cope with the situation, farmers are letting loose their domestic animals to forage in open fields, the survey said.
The survey, conducted last week in 122 randomly selected villages spread across 11 districts in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, also took stock of the drinking water and food security situation, and performance of the rural employment guarantee scheme.
Bundelkhand is a chronically drought-prone region spread across 13 districts in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The region has witnessed 13 droughts in the past 15 years.
The water crisis has reached alarming proportions in the Madhya Pradesh districts of Tikamgarh, Chhatarpur, Panna and Datia, where 40% of villages have zero to two functional handpumps, the survey found.
Only 18% of villages in Madhya Pradesh have 10 or more functional handpumps. The situation is comparatively better in parts of Bundelkhand that lie in Uttar Pradesh, where 14% of villages have two or fewer functional handpumps.
The survey found that only in 20% of the villages in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh had the government repaired or installed new handpumps—a sign of official apathy.
On the hunger situation, the survey found that in 59% of villages in Uttar Pradesh, there were more than 10 families that didn’t get a square meal a day. It was the same in 35% of Madhya Pradesh villages.
In 19% of villages in Uttar Pradesh, more than 10 families were found begging for meals. In Madhya Pradesh, it was 14%.
Pointing to reports of begging for food and eating poor quality substitutes like seeds of wild grasses, the survey said the situation requires constant monitoring until the next crop arrives in October.
“Policymakers have suddenly woken up to the drought situation while rural India was suffering since October last year,” Yogendra Yadav, a founding member of Swaraj Abhiyan, said while presenting the findings. “In times of drought people look to their governments but they have been let down.”
Programmes like the employment guarantee scheme were not used adequately, and compensation for crop loss that was due six months ago is yet to reach farmers, he said.
The Swaraj Abhiyan survey found that 29% of villages in Madhya Pradesh reported ongoing work under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), which assures a rural household 100 days of wage employment in a year.
The central government had decided to take this further to 150 days in drought-hit areas. In Madhya Pradesh, only 5% of villages reported ongoing work under the scheme.
The survey found that farmers in only 6% of villages in Uttar Pradesh and 30% in Madhya Pradesh were compensated for crop loss—a paltry amount of Rs.2,700 per acre of land, according to government norms.
Last year, as many as 11 states, including Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, declared drought following successive years of deficit rains.
Besides crop loss, the drought has led to an acute shortage of drinking water in parts of the country. The centre told the Supreme Court last month that about 330 million people in 10 states had been impacted by the drought.
A field report published in Mint last week showed that the Bundelkhand region is among the worst hit due to rampant hunger and numerous cattle deaths .