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Page last updated at 00:50 GMT, Saturday, 1 August 2009 01:50 UK

Jharkhand farmers despair at drought

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Ranchi, Jharkhand

Women work in a field in Jharkhand
Nearly 80% of people in Jharkhand are dependent on farming

In Satbarwa village in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, scores of Muslim farmers have gathered in the village square. Their arms raised, eyes fixed on the sky, they pray for rains.

"Allah, forgive our sins, reward our good deeds. Our ground is parched, our cattle are dying. Please bring in the rain."

Some distance away, a group of Hindu farmers ring the temple bells, hoping to catch the ear of the rain god.

With the monsoon bringing little rainfall this season, the land is dry and unfit for cultivation and the worry lines are getting deeper.

"There has been no rain so far this year," says Abdul Sakur, a farmer from Khola village.

"We have not been able to sow rice. Our corn crop has been destroyed by pests. We have nothing to eat. We have nothing to feed our cattle.

"There is a pond in our village. But it has no water. It's all dry."

"We are in the throes of a famine," says Vinod Thakur, a resident of Makri village.

"Water shortage is our biggest problem. We have had no rains this year so we can't grow rice."

'Dying of hunger'

Mr Sakur and Mr Thakur are among the hundreds of men and women who have come from surrounding villages to the town centre in Dhurki on this hot afternoon to meet government officials, to appeal for help.

Abdul Sakur
The villagers have nothing to eat, Mr Sakur says

But some are already going back disappointed.

Sanjhar Bhuin, 70, is a widow and she has been coming to Dhurki every day for the past 10 days from her village 15km (9 miles) away.

"The government is supposed to give us 10kg of rice every month," she says.

"But they say they'll give it to us when they get it. We haven't received any rice since April. We are dying of hunger."

By simple logic, Jharkhand should be a prosperous state with nearly 40% of India's mineral reserves, but the state has some of India's poorest people as its citizens.

Employment opportunities are few and nearly 80% of the population is dependent on the farm sector.

But farming here is dependent on the rain water and villagers say inadequate rainfall over the past four years has reduced them to penury.

Cynics call it a "rich state of poor people".

Worried

We drive several hundred kilometres from the state capital, Ranchi, to Latehar, Palamu and Garhwa districts in the north-west.

Sanjhar Bhuin
Many villagers say they have received no rice since April

We stop in towns and villages and everywhere we come across people worried about the lack of rain and the crop failure.

They beseech us to write about their plight, maybe then the government will put some food on our plate, they say.

The government says it is listening.

In the last few days, 11 districts have been declared "drought-hit" and authorities have announced free ration for people living below the poverty line in those areas from 1 August.

"It is our top priority to ensure food security and survival of the people - our fight here is with hunger," says Amitabh Kaushal, senior administration official in Palamu.

Mr Kaushal says the government has created a food stock for the infirm, the destitute and the disabled, and the poor:

"We are working hard to reach areas which are not easily accessible. They are starvation-prone areas. We're trying to identify them so that we can give them the benefits of these free food grains."

Sceptical

Mr Kaushal says local officials have been asked to set up camps in remote areas to ensure that food reaches people in the remotest areas.

Nand Gopal Yadav
Mr Yadav says the government does not care

The villagers in Palamu and Garwah, however, are sceptical.

"There is too much corruption in the system. Only a fraction of the money sanctioned by the government ever reaches the people. Is the government doing anything about it?" asks a bitter Mohammad Khairullah of Dhurki town.

He is speaking from experience.

There are existing government schemes to feed the poorest of the poor, provide them with free food grains or offer rice and wheat at highly subsidised prices.

But, across India, a lack of political will has meant the grains meant for the poor often get lost in transit - they are pilfered by corrupt officials and sold on the black market.

"If the government builds a dam on Kanhar river, it will irrigate the whole of Garhwa district And that will solve our problem But the government is interested only in projects which make them richer," says farmer Nand Gopal Yadav.

"Cruel weather and uncaring authorities are threatening our existence. No one really cares."



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