Banda awaits shower of promises
Poverty, hunger, and deprivation plaguing the Bundelkhand region hardly become a poll issue
Bundelkhand has seen too many political skirmishes over hunger deaths, farmer suicides and water crisis due to drought. Banda, one of the seven districts of Uttar Pradesh in the Bundelkhand region, was one of the worst-affected when drought hit the area in 2016.
The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) in 2009 sanctioned Rs 7,266-crore package for Bundelkhand as drought relief and integrated development. The package envisaged digging of wells and farm ponds. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), then in power in the state, entered into a war of words with the Centre over the exact amount sent for relief.
During the 2016 drought, when starvation deaths were reported from Banda, the Central government offered to send a water train to mitigate the crisis. The proposal was turned down by Akhilesh Yadav, who was then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Instead, he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi and sought an aid package of Rs 11,000 crore to buy 10,000 tankers to send water to villages facing shortages. The money was to be spent on other heads as well.
The Centre had asked the state to look for long-term solutions for the drought-hit region. Recently, the Yogi Adityanath government cleared a Rs 47 crore package "to ensure immediate availability of water in the region."
In Banda and Chitrakoot — the two districts together make the Lok Sabha constituency — politicians do their usual rounds begging for votes and then disappear until the next poll, like in every other backward area.
Poverty, hunger and deprivation plaguing the region hardly become a poll issue. The UP government's promise of a defence corridor for the region's development is yet to take off. The promised setting up of AIIMS is also far from realisation.
Meanwhile, illegal mining is killing the rivers. "No MP or MLA has bothered to look back to see how we are faring," said a villager, talking about the stray cattle menace unleashed on them by the Yogi Adityanath government. The two cow shelters here, he added, are a big farce as the cattle are let out once in a while and "our crops are destroyed".
Banda is a small town where life begins at dawn and ends a little after sunset. Much of Banda's life revolves around mining of red sand from the Ken river, which passes through the town. The river is its lifeline, and also a rich source of revenue for the mining mafia, who keep the pockets of district officials and politicians lined.
Cross the bridge over the Ken and one can see men, women and children filling up bags with red sand which is then ferried to different
parts using various modes of transport — cycles, autos, push-carts, motorcycles and trucks. Carrying red sand in small quantities helps avoid taxes. In the process the state loses on its royalty. Ferrying sand fetches easy money, around Rs 100 a day, half of which is spent on country liquor and food, according to the editor of a national vernacular daily.
Acute water shortage
People are content and they don't seem interested in improving their lifestyle. Those with some ambition migrate to other cities for work. Water shortage, he says, is acute.
After PM Modi's recent poll rally, the district administration is working on plans to ensure a trouble-free summer. But it is the Patha area — about 68 km from Banda and a further 20 km from Chitrakoot town — which is a vast stretch of parched land.
Although there are a few borewells, it's not enough. Locals, who depend on a huge pond built about 100 years ago by the king of Rewa — an adjoining district which falls in Madhya Pradesh — say that since the soil is rocky, special machines are required to dig borewells.
People in Patha use the pond for bathing, washing clothes, bathing their cattle
and also for drinking. The water is not purified in any way before drinking or
cooking. A former gram pradhan Annu Devi's husband, Dwarka Prasad, claims that nobody has ever fallen sick because of the water.
The secret, he guesses, lies in the large number of fish in the pond. Fishing is banned and this unwritten rule is followed by mostly all the residents. Patha jungles are famous for its dacoits — Dadua was one of them.
Tendu leaves are used to make bidis and mahua, which form an important part of diet among the poor. Those who can't afford food grains rely on mahua to make ends meet. Tendu leaves are one major source of employment for the local people. However, often, it's the contractors who make a fortune out of it. The Samajwadi Party (SP) candidate from the area, Shyama Charan Gupta, is a bidi magnate.
For the people in Banda-Chitrakoot areas, life is a daily struggle for survival even as they wait for comprehensive development as a permanent solution to their woes.
(Atul Chandra is a senior journalist based in Lucknow. The views expressed are strictly personal)