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Back to fields

india Updated: Dec 26, 2008 00:11 IST
Chetan Chauhan

After the global meltdown and good rain this year, it's back to the fields in hundreds of villages in Bundelkhand region.

A cluster of 15 semi-arid districts spread across southern Uttar Pradesh and northern Madhya Pradesh, the region had been reeling under drought for over four years.

"A large number of people left the region because of the drought and landed in cities as eco-refugees. But, some are now coming back -agriculture appears to be a viable option with recession adversely affecting wages in the cities," said Dr Ashok Khosla, chairman of Development Alternatives, an NGO working in 220 villages of the region.

Cattle had to be sold off and in some cases, even wives were up for sale, said Alok Shukla, an official at Tikamgarh development office. Farmers mortgaged land, and some simply chose to end life.

Many of those who stayed back, just about managed to live. "For months, I survived on animal fodder after I sold off my cattle," said Ram Charan, a landless labourer in Mador village on the Uttar Pradesh-Madhya Pradesh border near Jhansi.

Water was precious and reason for maximum number of criminal cases in Madhya Pradesh's Tikamgarh and Chhattarpur districts, said Shukla.

In the middle of this year, India began to feel the Wall Street tremors. Bala Saur, 40, had left Biharipura in Tikamgarh for Delhi three years ago to work as a construction worker. "We used to get Rs 70 per day, but then the contractor reduced it to Rs 50 and even that was not paid on time." Saur returned home to farm.

Like him, many villagers have been toiling the fields for two months now. They expect to make Rs 50,000 from a two-acre plot - double the amount they would have earned in Delhi, Indore or Mumbai in a year.

Most of the "eco-refugees" who have returned are above 35. The younger lot has decided to stay back. "They like the easy life in Delhi and Mumbai and don't want to toil in the fields," said Dalu Sour of Biharipura. His five grandsons work in Delhi.

Women had their reasons as well. Cities were too cramped for their liking.

"We lived in a very small jhuggi and wages were also was going," said Durga Devi, who returned to Kadi village in Panna district with her husband and three children.

Reverse migration was on and fewer people had left this year, said Tikamgarh district development collector KP Rahi, but added that the challenge would be to keep them back once the crop season was over.

It can be done, by introducing drought-resistant varieties and ensuing maximum returns to farmers, said Alok Prahbat Nag of Development Alternatives.

In Majra village of Tikamgarh, farmers, helped by Development Alternatives counsellors, grow three crops a year, including cash crops like ginger and papaya. The government is giving money to farmers for water-harvesting and improving farm techniques. "What I earn from an acre now used to be my income from three acres," said a farmer, Sanjay Singh.