Floods are a common occurrence in West Champaran, Bihar, but the response mechanism is slow. Here’s how an agrarian community held the government to task.
Champaran, a region etched in the social and political history of India, is also a region with some of the poorest development indicators today. The district, now split into East Champaran and West Champaran, is particularly seeing an ongoing agrarian crisis owing to repeated floods and droughts, and the lack of immediate action in their aftermath.
Community Correspondent Tanju Devi, who reports from Gaunaha block of West Champaran district, has been documenting the issues that farmers in the area face. She also works with them, writing applications and visiting officials, to get the local administration to take action. Another important component of her work is to generate awareness about government schemes. When Tanju started making her video on the devastation that floods had caused, she realised that the farmers were not aware of the government’s compensation and insurance schemes. Her first step was to meet the farming community and tell them of the schemes they were entitled to.
Tanju says that the farmers she spoke to were not covered by the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, the centre’s crop insurance scheme due to a lack of awareness. The insurance is compulsory only for those farmers who take loans from banks. In economically backward areas, where levels of education and awareness are low, coupled with poor access to facilities, farmers often resort to local moneylenders instead of banks. And when natural calamities ruin their crop, instead of receiving insurance, they are burdened with further debt.
However, once aware of the flood relief and insurance schemes, the community started drafting applications to claim their rights. Tanju, who assisted them in the process, says that the process was not easy because each department or official would refer them to the next, making them run from pillar to post.
Tanju then approached the Agriculture Advisor of the local panchayat (village council) whose farmers had been affected. Each panchayat in Bihar has an Agriculture Advisor whose role is to assist the farmers in scientific, legal and other matters. The Advisor, Jeetendra Kumar, then visited the affected villages with a team that conducted a thorough survey, geo-tagging the damaged fields and submitting a report to the District Agriculture Office and the Block Development Office. A compensation amount of 400 rupees per katha (1360 sq ft) of land lost was deposited in the farmers’ accounts after the block office approved of it. The entire process took six months.
“The next step is to get the damaged land levelled under MNREGA so that farmers can cultivate the next cycle of crops without further delay and debt”, says Tanju, who is making a video to get the land levelled. MNREGA, the nation-wide rural employment scheme, provides for levelling privately-owned farming land. Another step Tanju wants to work towards is to register the farmers of Harkatwa panchayat for the centre’s crop insurance scheme.
Video by Community Correspondent Tanju Devi
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team