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Everyone fights for this region but no one wants to own it

At the sleepy office of the Bundelkhand Vikas Nigam in Jhansi,senior assistant O P Gupta,lone member of the staff apart from a chaprasi and...

Written by Vandita Mishra | Jhansi |
September 8, 2009 5:03:52 am

At the sleepy office of the Bundelkhand Vikas Nigam in Jhansi,senior assistant O P Gupta,lone member of the staff apart from a chaprasi and the newly appointed chairman,is clearly unaccustomed to visitors. He recalls the time when the Nigam — revived by the Mayawati government a last month — was still a working institution. It oversaw sugar mills at Rath and Madhogarh,stone crushers at Bijoli,Khilli and Kabrai,and brick kilns in Jalaun,Hamirpur and Jhansi districts. That was till the Nigam,set up in 1971,closed down in 1992.

It reopened a decade and a half later in April 2008,remembers Gupta,when Mayawati appointed local businessman and BSP politician Ramesh Sharma as Nigam chairperson. It was around this time that Rahul Gandhi made his most high-profile visit to the region. And Bundelkhand,comprising some of the most dry and underdeveloped districts of UP and Madhya Pradesh,became the new political flashpoint between the Congress and the BSP.

Now that Sharma — who resigned to contest the 2009 Lok Sabha elections,which he lost — has been re-appointed chairman,is Gupta hopeful that the abandoned office he opens and closes at appointed hours every day,will come back to life?

“There is still no scheme,and no funds”,hesays wearily.

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In Jhansi,political nerve centre of the region and home to the first organised stirrings for a separate Bundelkhand state under the aegis of the Bundelkhand Mukti Morcha set up by Shankarlal Mehrotra in 1989,hazy memories survive of the time the Nigam last mattered as an institution meant to sensitise government plans to the region’s specific needs and funnel development funds for it.

“It is being revived now as part of the political ping pong between Rahul Gandhi and Mayawati”,says Ravindra Shukla of the BJP. In Chitrakoot,Daddu Prasad,senior minister in the Mayawati government,concedes,“It is true the Nigam hasn’t functioned as it should have.”

It is the same story at the Bundelkhand Development Authority in Sagar,Madhya Pradesh. The Authority was MP’s answer to the UP government’s Nigam. The Authority has held one meeting in two years,and been without a chairperson since last year. In Chhattarpur,Ashok Chaurasia,vice-chairperson of the Authority,says: “It was created to address the social,economic and cultural backwardness of this region… but we still have to fight for funds.”

As The Indian Express travelled across districts of Bundelkhand in both UP and MP,the predicament of a region caught between its unforgiving geography and an unseeing politics remained the same.

Shukla,who was a minister in UP’s erstwhile BJP government,illustrates a typically Bundelkhand problem. “Take the criterion followed by the UP government for installing a tube well. The required water discharge is 30,000 cusec litres per hour — extremely difficult to fulfill in this region. So tubewells are allotted to the tehsil,but remain on paper. The money goes back to the government,it lapses.”

The water discharge standard for a tubewell in Bundelkhand should be changed to 15,000 cusec litres per hour,says Shukla. But that,he adds,would require thinking of,for,and by Bundelkhand.

On both sides of the UP-MP border that cleaves town and village and carves up the highway,the drought — which is in its fifth straight year in Bundelkhand,interspersed by some rain last year — has sharpened the deprivations of an agriculture-based economy almost wholly dependent on the monsoon. Irrigation canals are few and far between,tanks and wells are dry,and the showers in mid-August came too late to save the kharif crop.

Amidst the gloom,NGOs battle with the administration over the deaths of farmers and goats. Yes,Cheema Dhar Yadav of village Tehrauli,district Jhansi,died after consuming hair dye on August 9. But it is difficult to say that the farmer’s suicide was because of “crop failure”,says TP Pathak,Commissioner,Jhansi.

In neighbouring Teletha,about 300 goats and sheep died in the first half of August. The villagers say the animals died because they grazed on crop gone poisonous due to lack of rain. The administration claims that according to post mortem reports,a viral infection called “blue tongue” was to blame.

Attempts to industrialise Bundelkhand have been half-hearted. Land acquired for the industrial area or “growth centre” in Jhansi is today mostly populated by residential complexes. R K Singh Patel,Samajwadi Party MP from Banda-Chitrakoot,recounts the case of the Continental Float Glass Factory in Chitrakoot. It was inaugurated by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in the late 1980s,land was acquired,an industrial area was declared and a railway line was laid. But the machines are yet to arrive in the factory. “The state government says it is a central matter,and the Centre throws the ball back to the state”,says Patel.

Migration has emptied villages,particularly the Harijan bastis within them. Entire families throng the bus stand at Chhatarpur and the railway station in Jhansi,headed to Delhi,Gwalior and Surat. Young men return for festivals,or to check on old parents they leave behind. In most villages in Bundelkhand,the doctor is an unreliable presence in the PHC,and medical care is left to the quack — the “jholachhaap doctor” in UP and his MP counterpart,the “chandsi”.

Across Bundelkhand,popular lore celebrates the achievements of the Chandella kings,from the 10th century sculptures at Khajuraho to the excellent water conservation systems they devised for arid districts like Mahoba and Tikamgarh,now fallen into disuse due to neglect and siltation. Nostalgia for kings,romance for heroes like Jhansi ki Rani,and awe for the Robin Hood-like exploits of legendary dacoits such as Dadua of Chitrakoot — he looted only big contractors,it is said — fill the space where the state should have been in Bundelkhand.

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