The poll cacophony in Bihar is seemingly getting muted in the rural hinterland where farmers and farm labourers are facing a drought-like situation owing to deficient rainfall and poor irrigation.
Water-starved and withering crops have forced many farmers to migrate to other states. Political parties fear the worst — the steady outflow of people ahead of the fivephase polls from October 12 might impact voter turnout.
On Tuesday, chief minister Nitish Kumar said his government was tackling the situation with all available resources. BJP’s Sushil Kumar Modi retaliated by saying the farmers’ plight has deliberately been left out of the CM’s campaign.
Rhetoric aside, Bihar is in the grip of a major farm crisis.
“Of the 38 districts, 24 have received 19% deficient rainfall. A drought-like situation is prevailing in these districts,” said Vyasji, principal secretary, disaster management department.
The state government has not declared drought in Bihar, as central rules suggest there should be 60% deficient rainfall and less than 50% crop coverage. Moreover, assignment of field staff of agriculture and allied departments for poll duty has impacted the implementation of several pro-farmer schemes.
Reports from the districts suggest a farmers’ unrest is brewing in the Rohtas-Kaimur belt — Bihar’s rice bowl — where farmers agitated last week demanding release of water from the Sone canal.
“There is no water and using pumps sets to irrigate fields is proving very costly. Our debt is increasing,” said Pramod Kushwaha, a marginal farmer in western Bihar.
Similarly, farmers in north Bihar’s Samastipur, Muzaffarpur, Vaishali and Chapra districts are facing a water crisis at a time when paddy has started sprouting.
Experts have forecast a low paddy yield this time, and it could impact the Rabi season as farmers would have little money in their hands to cultivate wheat.
Meanwhile, trains passing through north Bihar have been unusually overcrowded, filled mostly with farm labourers moving out of Bihar in search of jobs.