SATYA PAL, 36, takes a cartload of cattle dump to fertilise his farm in Rehmanpur village, part of Chandpur in Bijnor district. Rehmanpur and Husainpur, where Pal lives, are just two of hundreds of villages on the Ganga’s banks that are flooded annually. That isn’t, however, what will decide Pal’s vote in Chandpur Wednesday. He will vote for the BSP’s haathi, simply because he belongs to the Jatav caste.
Pal’s 25 bighas farmland, which is at the mercy of the river, supports five families. He has five children, his brother has three, and there are also the families of three of his cousins, besides his father and his uncle. Every bigha, Pal estimates, should ideally yield 40 quintals sugarcane, but the flooding last year restricted it to five or six quintals per bigha. It earned the five families a combined Rs 30,000, part of it sold in the local market at Rs 180 per quintal as they needed the money immediately, the rest sold to mills at Rs 320 per quintal.
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Pal has recently harvested last year’s crop and will sow wheat on about three bighas to earn a little extra, with his eldest son getting married soon. On the rest of his land, he will grow sugarcane again. If sowing is late, the floods of May-June will destroy all the plants that haven’t already grown over the water level. Whatever remains submerged dies eventually. Even when the entire crop isn’t under water, Pal’s family needs to work on other people’s farms to sustain.
Such labour earns Pal Rs 250 a day; he also tries to work under MNREGA for Rs 160 a day. Last year, Pal says, only 15 days’ work was provided in his village, and even for that payments were delayed. His family has an outstanding bank loan of about Rs 37,000, which is more than what the five families earned together last year. He can barely manage the interest. With the upcoming wedding, the family will further go into debt, Pal muses, smiling.
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He sends his five children to a private school, the fees Rs 120 a month, for he finds the government school poor. The government’s role in his life is limited. He says he did not receive rations until three or four months ago; now he gets 10 kg rice and wheat each for Rs 80 per month for his family of seven. His family, he says, has never got any pension or any money under Mahamaya or other government scheme for women, allegedly because his village chief says the list doesn’t have their names.
It’s not just small farms under the threat; the Ganga can flood larger plots too, he says. It can partially submerge his home village several km away from the banks, bringing down houses and shops. During these months, they get at most food, for which Pal credits Mohammad Iqbal, the incumbent BSP MLA.
No one in his village has ever received any compensation for destroyed houses, crop or lives, Pal says. So it is not an electoral issue for him or his village of 1,770 people. Neither is it so in many villages The Indian Express visited in Chandpur as well as Bijnor that vote Wednesday, nor in Hastinapur that voted last Saturday. In Lattipur and Hansapur of Hastinapur, across the river from Rehmanpur, residents say flooding is a critical problem but not an electoral issue that anyone even promises to address. The villagers, most of them Sikhs who came here after Partition, say they are split between the BSP (because of the large local population of SCs) and the BJP (for Narendra Modi).
At Dara Nagar in Bijnor, villagers say they lost nearly 15,000 bighas when the Ganga changed its course last year. Their village is next to forest land, which some try to cultivate when the river floods their farms. During the years the river gives the village their land back, bhooswamis, or land grabbers, capture land whether or not any villager owns it. “They belong to all parties. SP, BSP and BJP,” one villager alleges. Others, including rightful owners of that land, then work as farmhands. They don’t see a solution to these problems, thus don’t expect it to be addressed politically. “Ganga provides, Ganga takes away,” one villager says.
Standing at a trisection facing the Ganga, another villager says the houses to the left belong to Dalits, who will vote for the BSP. Those to the right belong mostly to Muslims; these will vote for SP. Houses close to the trisection and towards State Highway 51 belong to upper caste Hindus, who will go with “phool”, or the BJP.