Future Perspectives

Bundelkhand needs a new paradigm for development. One of the problems with state-level planning is that it does not take into consideration the particular needs of this region. The problems and potential of Bundelkhand must be taken into account instead of foisting upon it plans that have worked in other regions of the state. There is an urgent need for integrated planning of natural resources to support livelihoods. It should include the following components:

  • Homestead land with full legal rights
  • Granting of additional land per poor family
  • Better access of the rural poor to resources - for example, through mining leases to cooperatives of rural poor
  • Protection of the environment through additional funding, and sound policies on water, forests, mining and agriculture
  • Diversified livelihood base to include (depending on local resources) work based on forests, mining, crafts, etc

Forests

Many Kol and Sahariya tribals depend on the forest for their livelihood. This is being threatened by a depleting forest cover and also by conservation efforts that prohibit people from entering protected areas and gathering minor forest produce such as amla, chiranunji, mahua, tendu leaf, seasonal fruits and vegetables and herbs, medicinal plants and honey.

The solution lies in reconciling the objectives of protecting and increasing forest cover with the livelihood of tribals and other poor villagers living near forests.

This can be done in the following ways:

  • Change forestry practices to give people access. In turn, they will cooperate in protecting forests and wildlife
  • Allow people to gather minor forest produce and to process it in a way that will add value and boost their income (for example, amla can be converted to amla powder or candy)
  • Stop the eviction of those who cultivate land that the forest department claims is forest area and therefore not open to cultivation. Instead, they should become partners in tree cultivation. They should have inheritable rights to use and sell all non-timber forest produce.

Water

Although the region abounds in rivers and records adequate rainfall (around 1,000 mm), vast areas are water-scarce. Destructive floods ravage the region from time to time.

Groundwater supply is poor because of an underlying granite layer that does not hold water. Modern pumps and tubewells are therefore ineffective. Traditional ways of holding water, such as tanks, have fallen into disuse. Drinking water is therefore extremely scarce in many villages.

Water management is critical here, and must include the following steps:

  • Proper maintenance and repair of existing tanks and related structures that can still be used
  • Watershed development with a multi-disciplinary approach, so that repair and construction of tanks, construction of check-dams, soil and water conservation, and planting of trees are combined with the social mobilisation of villagers
  • Scarce finances should be put into smaller and more effective schemes rather than big projects like the Ken-Betwa river link that will displace many people, and whose benefits are not only doubtful, but, according to some environmentalists, actually harmful

Agriculture

Agriculture and allied activities is the primary source of livelihood for 74.55 per cent of people in the region. Over 80 per cent of farmers are small and marginal.

Wages for farm workers are as little as Rs 40-50 for men and Rs 25-30 for women. In some villages, it is a mere 1 1/4 kg of grain a day. The system of bonded labour still exists in some villages.

The two major problems are inequality in landholdings and poor crop yields.

Land shown in records to be in the possession of weaker sections, or as part of the village commons, has been encroached upon by big landowners. Many landless families have been given land on paper but for various reasons have not been able to occupy the land.

There are several allottees (tarseem bataa) who do not know exactly which plot of land has been allotted to them. They cultivate a plot only to be told later that it is not theirs. There are uncertainties regarding Category 6 land and matroom land. Often, land cultivated by tribals in forest areas is claimed by the forest department.

Land reform can be carried out in the following ways:

  • Ceiling land must be identified and distributed. Bhoodan land can be given to the landless, as also land that has been temporarily vacated by receding reservoir waters
  • Patta allottees must be able to cultivate their land
  • The benefits of soil and water conservation, and irrigation, must be made available to small peasants with a low resource base, on a priority basis
  • While the tribal rights bill will sort out the problem of land for tribals in forest areas, non-scheduled tribes are also vulnerable and need protection.

Crop yields are poor due to inadequate irrigation, poor water-conservation methods and therefore dependence on an erratic monsoon. In recent times, there has been an increase in crop varieties that require high doses of chemical fertiliser. Average productivity of cereals, pulses and oilseeds in the region is, respectively, about 14.58, 8.51 and 5.73 quintals per hectare, while the state average is 19.93, 8.75 and 8.41 respectively (1993-94 figures).

The following changes could increase yields and thereby food and livelihood security:

  • Credit at low rates of interest to farmers
  • Use of compost, neem or other plant-based pesticides
  • Good practices such as moisture and water conservation, increasing green cover and strengthening animal husbandry
  • Innovative use of even small plots of land to combine agriculture with horticulture, herbs and farm-forestry
  • Traditional crop rotation, which helps maintain the fertility of the land. Any new crops/crop rotation should be introduced after proper evaluation and open discussions with farmers
  • Promotion of crops that are specialities of the area. For example, Jhansi district is known for the quality of its turmeric, ginger and arbi; parts of Mahoba district for paan
  • Likewise, the kathia variety of wheat grown in some parts commands a premium; so do scented rice varieties such as tulsi bhog, kala sudanas and ram bhog
  • Promotion of hardy crops like pasahi paddy or wild paddy, savan and kakun, which can be ready for harvest in 60 days and can provide food security to poor families in difficult times

Mining

Bundelkhand has vast deposits of minor minerals such as granite, stone chips, stone powder, silica sand and riverbank sand. These are being mined indiscriminately. Both the environment and the health of workers suffer as a result, with high incidences of silicosis, tuberculosis, skin ailments and death due to accidents.

Mining activity needs to be rationalised and regulated, not banned, as it affords people a livelihood option. This can be done in the following ways:

  • Forming cooperatives or self-help groups of workers to take up small-scale mining work using eco-friendly methods
  • Banning the use of dynamite and big machinery, particularly in fragile zones
  • The government should promote processing units to cater to the needs of small-scale mining and quarrying groups
  • Experiments should be carried out in handing over a stretch of mineral-rich land to workers’ groups on an ownership basis, on condition that the workers are responsible for increasing green cover and protecting the environment.

Crafts, Artisans and Industry

Local crafts are in decline. Different parts of the region excel in specialised crafts such as making wood toys and silver fish. More routine artisan work like weaving, oil-milling, carpentry, leatherwork etc, has even greater potential for livelihood generation. These need to be revived, although quite the opposite is happening.

At Naugaon, health and livelihoods are being ruined by a liquor factory.

Such a distorted industrial policy should change in favour of environment-friendly, employment-intensive work.

Links

Bundelkhand Info

Free online encyclopedia on Bundelkhand, from a development perspective, web published by ABSSS. View Site