Picking up the pieces after June’s devastating flash floods and landslides, Uttarakhand may be hit by mass migration of marginal farmers whose small land holdings now lie buried under debris.
The government is rushing in relief and undertaking measures to offer employment so that no one goes hungry, but admits the measures will probably not be enough to prevent people from moving to other states in search of livelihood — even as daily wagers.
“Such a situation can’t be avoided, given the magnitude of the natural disaster, but we are doing everything we can to provide relief to small and marginal farmers such as free food and cooking gas till September,” state agriculture minister Harak Singh Rawat said on Saturday.
He added agricultural land of small and marginal farmers in 156 villages across the hill districts of Rudraprayag, Chamoli, Uttarkashi, Pauri, Tehri and Bageshwar had been destroyed. Rudraprayag has suffered the maximum damage.
The hill state has seen migration of marginal farmers in the last couple of years amid dwindling returns, but the circumstances this year might trigger an exodus, according to farm experts.
Dr JP Singh, director (research) at GB Pant University of Agriculture and Technology said, “If help does not reach the poor and marginal hill farmers, it might lead to their mass migration. This cannot be ruled out because of the threat of starvation.”
Dr DP Pant, professor of genetics and plant breeding at Pant University, said the hill farmers were in a precarious position. “Now, they won’t be able to grow even coarse grain on which they used to survive.”
Pant added nearly 71% of the poor and marginal farmers in the state had up to .5 hectares of land each and the land holdings of 18% of hill farmers was a little bit higher.
What’s more, another expert warned the farmers’ problems would not end even after the debris was cleared. “The cataclysmic rain has washed away the top fertile soil everywhere in the hills leaving little scope for farm production,” Dr YPS Dabas, director, extension education at Pant University, said.
Following the flood fury, small land holdings at many places have turned into boulder-strewn barren patches.
Agriculture minister Rawat said amid the relief efforts, a move was also underway to increase the job guarantee period under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act in disaster-hit areas.
The Act aims at enhancing the livelihood security of people in rural areas by guaranteeing 100 days of wage-employment in a financial year to a household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.