Drought-hit farmers on the brink: Chhattisgarh govt bungles relief distribution
- Most parts of Chhattisgarh are reeling under drought
- The state govt had asked the Centre for a Rs 6,000 crore relief package. The Centre only issued Rs 1,200 crore
- Only farmers who have lost a minimum of 33% crops are eligible for crop damages
- There is large-scale bungling in the distribution of relief money. Only Rs 380 crore has been disbursed
More in the story
- Farmers\' migration - myth or reality?
- Is it fair to blame just the bureaucracy, or should policy-makers also share it?
Jagdish Soni and his three sons used to cultivate paddy on around 15 acres of land. This was the family's only source of income. But then, drought hit their land, and they were unable to cultivate a single grain of rice. The family racked up a debt of Rs 1 lakh.
Then came a ray of hope - the state government announced compensation for drought-hit farmers. However, Soni's name did not figure on the list.
"The patwari did not bother to inspect the fields. He distributed relief money to the wrong people. I will shoot him, if given a chance. We are not going to survive anyway," the 80-year-old farmer laments.
Soni is just one among hundreds of farmers in Achoti village who feel betrayed by the government's apathy. The village is situated barely 25 kilometres from Chhattisgarh's capital, Raipur, and is home to around 200 families. Of these, only 99 families have been deemed as drought-affected by the state government.
"The farmers of our village depend on the Tandula canal for irrigation. But water was not released into the canal this year. As a result, around 75% of the crop was ruined in Achoti and adjoining villages like Nardha, Chetva, Murmunda, Otebandh, Godi and Malpuri, among others," complains Hem Sahu, the sarpanch of Achoti.
However, the District Collector of Durg, R Sangeeta, disagrees. "We might have missed a few names. But the procedure adopted for the survey was totally correct," she insists.
Adding insult to injury
Sangeeta's claims notwithstanding, the fixing and distribution of compensation has broken the back of Chhattisgarh's farmers. The relief money is pittance, and large-scale irregularities in the distribution process have just added insult to injury. The list of complaints against bungling officials are piling up by the day.
Several small farmers, with less than 25 acres of land and 20-30% crop damage, have been excluded from the government list of beneficiaries. Those included in the list have also been left in the lurch by the delay in payment.
Farmers with less than 25 acres of land and 20-30% crop damage have been excluded from the aid list
This has resulted in a famine-like situation and gradual migration in many areas.
Many farmers have no savings or seeds left for the next season. There is little possibility they would be able to make up for their losses in the near future.
"Every farmer in our village is neck-deep in debt. Most of them have no seeds for the next season. They will have to leave their fields empty next year," says Rikhiram Sahu, a resident of Achoti.
Pittance in the name of aid
A visit to the hinterland of Rajnandgaon, Mahasamund, Janjgir-Champa and Durg districts is enough to expose the truth behind tall government claims. The farmers in these regions only have worries, sorrow, dissatisfaction and anguish to share.
According to the state department of revenue and disaster management, the work of distribution of compensation money has already been completed. It has decided that no further aid is required.
Department secretary KR Pisda says the decision has been taken as no district has demanded more money. This is despite the fact that only Rs 380 crore has been disbursed so far.
The state govt asked for Rs 6,000 crore from the Centre, but received only Rs 1,200 crore
But many experts argue that this amount is not sufficient to compensate all the farmers.
In many areas, farmers have been forced to leave their standing crops as cattle feed, as they know they would not be enough to meet their needs. However, such farmers do not qualify for compensation as per government parameters.
Discontent and migration
The simmering discontent has started to show on the streets. There have been protests against the arbitrary distribution of compensation money in several districts.
"The central government had released Rs 1,200 crore as relief package. But, the farmers have received only Rs 380 crore. The state government has managed to leave the most deserving farmers out of the purview of compensation by incorporating several unjustified preconditions in determining drought-affected farmers. This only means it wants to keep the other Rs 820 crore to itself," alleges farmer leader Rajkumar Gupta.
The government figures on drought-affected farmers are also contradicted by the fact that around 10 lakh farmers have not sold paddy this season.
Farmer leaders allege only Rs 380 crore has been disbursed, and the govt plans to keep the rest
Government apathy has left these farmers in a serious crisis of livelihood. Many of them have no option but to look for greener pastures elsewhere.
Hundreds of families from Bagbahra, Pithora, Basna, Jhalap, Saraipali and Bhanwarpur regions of Mahasamund district have left their villages. The trend has also been observed in the Baloda area of the Janjgir-Champa region, as MNREGA labourers have not received their wages for three months.
There is speculation that 30-40% of the region's families will leave their homes after Holi.
But Pisda denies reports of migration. "We see migration at a negligible scale every year. However, 13 lakh people have demanded work under MNREGA this year. In addition, several projects are pending under drought-relief measures. We are giving priority to drinking water and irrigation initiatives," he explains.
Blame it on the bureaucracy
Clearly, the government's efforts to help the farmers remain on paper. But Pisda claims otherwise.
"The administration has distributed enough compensation to every deserving farmer, as per the government policy. We have received complaints from some districts. The district collectors have been instructed to address these concerns," he says.
The damage cannot be ascertained from empty fields, as the crop has already been harvested. Officials have estimated the loss through rainfall data and the sale of the paddy crop.
According to state agriculture minister Brijmohan Aggarwal: "The task of distributing compensation money was assigned to the officials. The complaints, to some extent, are natural. But it is wrong to say that there is a widespread anger among the farmers."
The Aam Aadmi Party's state convenor and agriculture expert Sanket Thakur contests this claim.
"The government is only pretending to help the farmers. It has passed the buck to the bureaucracy. The relief money is insufficient in the first place, and there are large-scale irregularities in the distribution," he alleges.
Thakur says farmers need special protection under the prevailing circumstances. He argues that a majority of farmers are economically deprived and migrating under stress.
"Many more farmers would be forced to commit suicide if the situation does not improve. The farmers cannot be left at the mercy of MNREGA alone," he says.
Translated by Deepak Sharma
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
More in Catch: