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Flood-Affected Farmers Fight for Entitled MNREGA Benefits

While floods in Bihar get some media attention, the effects on agrarian communities are far-reaching and need sustainable solutions rather than immediate relief packages.

Community Correspondent Tanju Devi belongs to the Adivasi Tharu community living near the Indo-Nepal border in West Champaran, Bihar. Agriculture is the mainstay of the community, and as a correspondent and activist, Tanju has been consistently covering the agrarian crisis in the region, largely under-reported by the mainstream media.

Situated at the foothills, the agricultural land in the district is often inundated with flood waters from the rivers flowing southwards from Nepal. Many of these are flash floods caused by natural phenomena but unregulated human activity like sand mining also leads to flooding. Moreover, the region also sees erratic rainfall in the non-monsoon months and drought-like situations, making farmers perpetually dependent on loans which are mostly taken from local moneylenders.

The debt, coupled with low educational levels and skill development, often leaves them with no sustainable, alternative source of livelihood.

“If we manage to find some daily wage labour, we can feed ourselves for a day. Otherwise, we go to bed hungry,” says an elderly woman whose family’s crops were flattened by silt. Flooding both erodes the land of its fertile top layer and expanses of silt and sand left by floods means that the land is no longer even to sow new crops, and needs to be levelled.

Under MNREGA, the centre’s rural employment scheme which creates and maintains public assets, land levelling of private agricultural land is listed as a project. But it is unfortunate that not only did the local administration not take steps to compensate the farmers for lost land and crops, they also did not survey the land and support the community in redeveloping their crucial resources.

“MNREGA representatives like the Panchayat Rozgar Sevak (PRS) don’t attend our village council meetings, so how can they know the problems? Till date, privately owned land has never been levelled under MNREGA despite the provision,” says Avash Bihari, a young farmer.

When Tanju spoke to the PRS in charge of the village, Sanjay Kumar Singh, he said that the land in some villages was not levelled because no new schemes had come up to do so.

Bihari, meanwhile, believes that it is the government’s duty to support them through infrastructure and investment, starting with levelling the land.

Tanju had decided to make a video demanding land-levelling for the community back when she made the video on the flood itself. Having experienced the crisis firsthand and seen the laxity of the administration, she reports on agrarian crisis in a holistic and sustained manner, resulting in the community building their trust in her and the administration also taking note of the farmers’ problems.

Support Tanju and the community by calling the Panchayat Rozgar Sevak at +91-8252658084 and urge him to get the land levelled under MNREGA at the earliest so that the farmers don’t lose out on another crop cycle.

Video by Community Correspondent Tanju Devi

Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team

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