Reeling under an Rs 1.21 lakh loan, Tej Bahadur Singh, a farmer in Bundelkhand, UP, was dealt a second blow last month.
Living a hand-to-mouth existence with his family of 10 in Gahabra village in Banda, his hopes of repaying the debt got dashed after rain and hailstorm destroyed his entire field of crop.
“The bank has been sending me notices but I am not in a position to pay even a penny. We only hear about the Bundelkhand package but there is no work here. If it was meant for poor farmers, how did so many get left out?” asks Singh.
It was to help farmers like Singh, badly affected by the drought that hit the region in 2006-07, that UPA-II announced the Rs 7,266 crore Bundelkhand package in 2009. But five years on, farmers say they are yet to see the benefits of the scheme pitched by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi during his visit to the area.
Fed up with false promises, around 25 villages in Banda have decided to press the “None of the above” button when the region goes to the polls on April 30.
“First Rahul made tall promises. Then SP leaders came before assembly elections in 2012 and said our loans would be waived, we will get irrigation facilities,”said Bade Singh, a Banda farmer.
“But not one leader has set foot here after the elections. Hence our panchayat has decided to reject all candidates till our demands are met,” he added.
The Bundelkhand package was formed to provide relief to farmers after around 2,000 farmers committed suicide in the region between 2008 and 2010 reeling under heavy debt. Severe drought destroyed their crops and drove them to abject poverty.
Rs 3,506 crore, or around half the package, was allocated for various drought mitigation measures in seven districts of Uttar Pradesh that fall under Bundelkhand. But some of the remotest villages in the region haven’t witnessed any development work at all, villagers say.
“My father died last month after our crops got damaged. There is no work in the field. So many people in our village have left. I too am planning to move to the city. What use is any package if farmers are forced to leave their land?” said Kalicharan of Buxi Purwa village.
The villagers have made three demands which they will send to whoever party comes to power. “Better irrigation facilities, compensation for farmers whose crops got destroyed and loan waiver to those who are unable to repay their debts. If our demands are not met, we have decided to commit mass suicide,” said Rajesh Singh, another Banda farmer.