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Published: Wed, 09/02/2009 - 10:20 Updated: Fri, 07/03/2015 - 09:13

The Mayawati regime approved of Rs 556 crore for construction of parks and statues, but allocated only Rs 250 crore for drought relief. Even that money is not reaching as helpless people starve in drought-hit UP
Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow

The Uttar Pradesh government has declared 57 out of 70 districts drought-affected. But, ironically, the state government which approved Rs 556 crore for construction of parks and statues (including that of Chief Minister Mayawati) allocated only Rs 250 crore for drought relief. Moreover, this Rs 250 crore was obtained from the central calamity fund through supplementary grants during the recently concluded session of the UP assembly.

According to Congress legislature party leader, Pramod Tewari, if Rs 250 crore is divided among the 16-crore people in UP, it would work out to only four paisa per day per person. "On the contrary, the Mayawati government spent Rs 80 lakh on erecting the statue of each elephant - a totally unproductive expenditure. Hundreds of such elephants are being constructed all over the state," said Tiwari.  Elephant is the BSP symbol.

A series of farmer suicides and starvation deaths have been reported. Take for instance the heart-breaking case of Ramesh, a farmer in Mehrauni tehsil in Lalitpur district of Bundelkhand. Drought caused severe financial crisis in his family. Even as they battled to survive, debts kept piling up. Unable to take it anymore, his wife committed suicide. She jumped into the village well with their two children. It was then that officials rushed to the village. But the purpose of their visit was sinister: they mounted pressure on Ramesh to deny that the deaths were due to drought.

Earlier, Govind, another farmer in Lalitpur, and Pratap Singh of Etawah, had committed suicide propelled by the financial crisis caused by drought.  Singh was a BPL card holder. He had two bighas of land and a family consisting of four daughters, two sons and an ailing wife. He worked as a labourer but his earnings were not enough to support his family. The district administration is not willing to accept that Singh committed suicide due to the financial crisis and drought.

Chhamadar, a 71-year-old farmer of Tehrauli in Jhansi district, also committed suicide clearly due to drought and severe monetary crisis. He had borrowed Rs 1.25 lakh from a local money lender for his granddaughter's marriage. This year, he had sowed til (sesame seed) in his two bigha land but drought killed the crop. His son migrated to Delhi in search of a job. Also, Chhamadar's widow complained she was not getting old-age pension for quite some time now. Meanwhile, an abjectly apathetic district administration is still 'probing' the suicide.

Local MP and Union Minister of State for Rural Development Pradip Jain visited Chhamadar's home. He gave Rs 20,000 to the family of the deceased. He faced a barrage of complaints from farmers in the village. They complained that they were given job cards two years ago but they have not been given work under NREGS. They alleged large-scale corruption. Jain admitted that he had received reports of several drought-related suicides in the Bundelkhand region.

Though the suicides reported are due to financial crisis caused by drought in UP, the state government is brazenly denying this truth. District officials trot out a stock reply that the real cause of the suicides is not drought. Villagers, however, know the harsh reality. They are battling drought each day.

When this correspondent visited Rudauli tehsil in Faizabad Lok Sabha constituency, villagers complained they were facing starvation. There was no food left after drought struck. There was a shortage of fodder for animals. Worse, in these hard times, there was no work under NREGA schemes. Villagers complained they were not getting any relief from the government. Even marriages were being cancelled or postponed due to drought.

It's not just drought. Villagers of Mirzapur in the Vindhyachal region complained of severe power crisis and shortage of animal fodder. NREGA schemes and old-age pension schemes are victims of large-scale corruption, they alleged. "We could sow only 15 per cent of crops due to drought," informed Vinod, a villager from the area.

The UP assembly witnessed an uproar when the opposition blamed the state government. Opposition members displayed placards blaming the Mayawati government for its failure to provide adequate relief to people in the affected areas. There is no supply of foodgrains, no jobs given under NREGA and starvation was rampant. MLAs criticised the
huge sums approved for setting up statues and parks.

Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav repeatedly attacked Mayawati. He said Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has stated in the Lok Sabha that the UP government had failed to provide drought-related information. Yadav charged the Mayawati government for being vindictive in naming a district drought-affected. He alleged that districts where the SP had won were deliberately being ignored. He demanded that the whole state should be declared drought-affected. Farmers are not getting seeds or agricultural incentives. He blamed the Mayawati regime for suicides of farmers in Bundelkhand region.

SP state president, Akhilesh Yadav, alleged that the state government has not yet drawn up a strategy to deal with drought. During a visit of the finance commission to Lucknow, Mayawati sought support from opposition parties to mount pressure in order to get more funds for the state's development, he claimed. "Who will guarantee that funds received from the finance commission will not be diverted for the construction of parks and statues?" he asked. Indeed, the state government should give an undertaking to this effect about funds received from the Centre. Only then will the opposition extend a helping hand, he said.

Meanwhile, scanty rainfall has affected the paddy crop most. According to a report by the state agriculture department, the production of paddy will be down by 60 per cent.

The chief secretary informed the central team, which toured the state to assess the damage wrought by drought, that kharif crops could be sown in 68.02 per cent land. The crop production is expected to decline by 40 per cent this year. According to officials, the state is reeling under a huge shortage of fodder. They demanded that the centre should intervene at the earliest.

Following drought, the state government claimed to have distributed 2.4 million quintals of free seeds to 1.4 million farmers. Also, farmers have been advised to sow gram, pulses, bajra and mustard to make up their loss. At a meeting of officers to review the situation, Mayawati directed them to take immediate steps to streamline the public distribution system. She warned of strict action if the officers failed in their duties.

On August 17, Mayawati met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at his residence and demanded an assistance of Rs 2,000 crore for power in drought-hit areas. She also urged the PM to approve of a separate package of Rs 7,789 crore for drought relief measures for UP.

Meanwhile, the Congress attacked Maywati for not attending the chief ministers' meet despite being present in Delhi. Important issues including drought was on the agenda of the conference which was addressed by the prime minister. Congress leader Vivek Singh said Mayawati should have raised issues like drought and shortfall of 3,000 KW of power in UP. That Mayawati skipped the CMs' meet proves that she is not interested in helping the people in this crisis, he said. He demanded that the UP government should release a white paper giving details about how Centre's financial allocation has been used  for public welfare - and how much has been 'misused' for construction of parks and installation of statues. Only then should Mayawati ask the Centre for more funds, he said.

CPI leader and former member of farmers' commission, Atul Anjan, told Hardnews that the Mayawati government has completely failed to tackle drought situation. Her insensitivity is evident from the fact she skipped the CMs' meet called by the PM in Delhi and instead asked her cabinet minister to represent her and read out her written speech, he said. The BSP regime has effectively failed to check the collapse of the public distribution system. A nexus of contractors and officials are grabbing kerosene and foodgrains while the common man is left deprived, Anjan alleged. The state government is reeling under a foodgrain scam worth Rs 5,000 crore since 2000, he pointed out.

The state government has also bungled with poverty alleviation programmes and central schemes like NREGA, health insurance schemes for BPL card-holders and the Rajiv Gandhi rural electrification scheme. That explains why the rural population in UP is in such severe distress, said Anjan.

The Mayawati regime approved of Rs 556 crore for construction of parks and statues, but allocated only Rs 250 crore for drought relief. Even that money is not reaching as helpless people starve in drought-hit UP Pradeep Kapoor Lucknow

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This story is from print issue of HardNews