Swati MathurSwati Mathur, TNN
BANDA: When Sushil Kumar heard that the government was about to offer drought-hit farmers compensation in the form of monetary relief, his hopes rose. Production may have been poor, but all was not lost. With the compensation amount he would get, Kumar thought he would buy better seeds to sow for the next cropping season. And if there was still any extra left, he may even consider buying a thresher.
That was before the Lekhpal of Kumars Tendwari village came knocking at his door. The crisp yellow leaf bearing Kumar's name promised him drought compensation worth Rs 30. For a failed crop and the loss of several thousand rupees that was to be Kumar's government dole.
"The Lekhpal told me we would have to open a bank account worth Rs 500 for depositing a cheque for Rs 30. He told me to go to the Block Development Officer for clarification, if I had doubts. I spent petrol worth over Rs 100 to visit the officer, but his response was the same. Take it or leave it. I took the cheque, but didn't bother to encash it," Kumar, 45, said.
Kumar wasn't the only beneficiary. Through UP's worst affected drought years 2002 and 2004 other farmers received even lesser drought compensation. In Banda's Madhopur village, Babu walked away with a drought relief cheque worth Rs 10.
"We didn't have the money to open an account. We decided we are better off without such a magnanimous dole," Badri, another beneficiary from the village, said. A large number of these farmers have kept such cheques as souvenirs.
State administration, though, maintains they follow the guidelines. Joint Secretary, disaster management department, Anand Prakah, said: "We follow the guidelines laid down in the Calamity Relief Fund in deciding the extant of assistance that is to be given out to people."
Still, farmers allege, no one got compensated for more than Rs 60. That, when according to UP government's own assessment, years 2002 and 2004 were severe in terms of drought, with loss to crop, livestock and property assessed at Rs 7,540 crore and Rs 7,292 crore respectively. Following the announcement of drought in 2002, UP was allocated the largest share of Rs 481.10 crore under CRF. In addition, along with six other states, UP also received a share of Rs 700 crore from the National Calamities Contingency Fund.
The same Calamity Relief Fund (CRF) also, in fact, lays down that no beneficiary of government relief must get less than Rs 250 as relief amount. In 2009, this amount was revised to a minimum of Rs 500, to be paid to victims as subsidy for fresh sowing.
Currently, UP gets Rs 400 crore as Central Relief Fund annually, with a 75% advance from the government of India and the remaining being state share. Over and above this amount, in the year of flood or drought, the government prepares a food or drought memorandum seeking additional financial assistance.
"Typically, the assistance doled out ranges between Rs 2,000 and 4,000. Relief funds are meant for the poor, but there is no reason why anyone should have only got Rs 2 as drought assistance," a senior official of the disaster relief department, said.
More recently, in 2009 for instance, the state government declared drought conditions in 63 districts again. This time, the promised compensation amount was higher. At least some of it, though, didnt reach its rightful recipients.
In April this year, three years after the declaration of drought, an FIR was lodged in Chitrakoot's Mau area against the nayab tehsildar, additional subdivisional magistrate and bank officials for misappropriating nearly Rs 1 crore worth of drought relief funds in the area. Relief was to be doled out through bearer cheques, which, in fact, never reached many farmers. Proceedings into the case are still on. No one from the district administration was available for comment.