Feast Of The Ravines

This is a cancer that affects whole villages. Like the cancerous cells in the human body, this one too spreads fast, but unlike the deadly disease, is not being checked. No chemotherapy to zap the bad cells here. Ravines are gobbling up whole villages and communities in Bhind and Morena districts in Madhya Pradesh, destroying their houses and wasting away the soil.

It is estimated that ravines have affected 948 villages in Bhind and Morena districts. Lost villages leave behind a trail of hopeless villagers. The experience leaves them with a shattered and fragmented life. In Murana District, the village Mrigpura is being swallowed by the ravines in such a way that all the land in and around it has turned into deep pits. Devdutta, who shared one of the patches along with fifteen families, says, “We are left with no place of residence. Wherever people have found some patches of land nearby, they have settled. The previous village is now divided into 18 parts. What could be the life of any person when his place is divided into so many parts, when there is no land to till. No pastures and no work. The village which was doing well is now full of poor, unemployed, helpless people.”

The village Chursalai is only 17 kilometres away from Amba, but has to he covered by foot or camel. During the rainy season, the village cannot be approached. Since the last two years, expanding ravines from all comers are surrounding it, and most of the village land has been destroyed. Ramjee Lal tells us that nobody in the village, which numbers 50 houses, has agricultural land now. The villagers either do some cultivation on the riverbank or cut forest trees to sell in the city markets. Be it farming, employment, school, road, electricity or hospital, the place has nothing to offer except the bare minimum vestiges of human survival. It is ironic that in spite of being situated near the Chambal river, there is a shortage of drinking water. The village has now only a single well that provides water for a maximum of one hour everyday. Villagers have to go to Chambal river and get water on the camels’ back.

Another village in this ravine region is Rudawali. This big village, with a population of 5,000 and not more than 50 kilometres from Murana, is now being divided into three segments because of the ravines. Almost half of the village consisting of houses, schools, and streets are ravines. In the middle of the village, 50-60 feet deep ravines are present Small and big nalas and pits are increasing, making room for the further on rush of water and the formation of more ravines.

Here we meet Virendra Kumar whose house is partly breached, and can be eroded any time. “Where else can we go,” he asks and proceeds, “Those who could afford some safer place have already left the village. Harijans here have no other residential place and no money to buy one.” The village faces a severe shortage of drinking water. Not a single hand-pump is working. The groundwater level has gone so low that water level of wells has sunk to 200 feet. Three men with the help of a buffalo are required to pull water from it. In Porsha Block of Murana District, Ratanbasai village has now split into eight new segments. The streets and roads are destroyed and it takes a tough walk across 3 kilometres to cover all the segments of the old village. Poverty, unemployment and insecurity apart, the villagers are concerned about their dying social and cultural life. A villager narrates how it is becoming a problem to get their children married. The people of other villages do not want to establish relationships here. Even among themselves, they have difficulty in keeping contacts.

Nayakpura, Rubara, Ajitpura, Khadoli, Jaghona, Rithona, Mahuwa, Sarsani, Gaushpur are among the innumerable ravine-affected villages in this region. We could only get broad and somewhat outdated estimates about them. The Chambal Division Commissioner’s Office at Gwalior gives an estimate that in Chambal Division, there are 2141 villages in Bhind and Murana Districts. The Division has a total area of 16.14 lakh hectares, out of which about 3.107 lakh hectares are ravines, which comes to around 20 percent of the total area in the Division. As per this estimate, ravines affect 948 villages in Bhind and Murana Districts. The ravines have spread along the main rivers of the region, which include Chambal, Quari, Lasan, Seep, Vaishali, Kuno, Parvati, Sanka and Sindh. The worst ravines are in the vicinity of Chambal river and are expanding much faster than before. Karan Singh Jain, who has all along lived among ravines, calls himself an expert on this phenomenon. He was a member of Chambal Development Authority. He gives details of how in Murana District, 436260 hectares of agricultural land is officially under cultivation. However, 1ll reality, ravines and other problems have rendered 326013 hectares unproductive.

It is not that ravines are a recent problem. Thousands of hectares of fertile land along the banks of rivers like Yamuna, Chambal, Mahi and their tributaries is ruined byraV111e information in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat. However, the fast spread of ravines is indeed a recent phenomenon. It is more so in the Chambal region, which is the worst affected.

Villagers have innumerable experiences of being destroyed in no time and being repeatedly displaced within a span of few years. Without any survey during the last 20-25 years, governmental and non-governmental organisations make their own claims. Science Centre, Gwalior which started an awareness campaigns on this issue, could only quote the study done by the Centre for Science and Environment, Delhi, “In the last 30 years, ravines have increased by 36% in Bhind and Murana Districts. Between 1943-1950, every year 800-hectare area became ravines in these Districts. Between 1950-1975, ravine formation increased, at the rate of SOOO-hectare area every year. Its main reason was large-scale deforestation. Only 20.58% land has forest cover in these Districts.”

There are only dreadful and dangerous projections for the future. Dr. K S. Senger of Government Girls College, Murana, gives information that by 2050, additional S2,OOO-hectareagricultural land in this region would turn into ravines. Around 1500 villages would be ravine-affected and the per capita land availability would come down from the present 0.33 hectare to a mere 0.124 hectare. There are big, small, deep, swallow, old and new ravines. Less vegetation level on land makes room for the rainwater to flow (or to sweep away) the upper portion of that land. Thus water flows fast, and creates nalas, big cracks and fissures. These develop slowly or quickly, depending on the coming of the rainwater, and become … ravines. Once even a small ravine is formed, every rain makes it bigger by creating holes in the front as well as the corners. Scientists explain that in the specific context of Bhind and Murana Districts, the light and alluvial kind of soil, coupled with deforestation, increasing pressure of a population unmindful of the flow of water, faulty irrigation projects, and short-term developmental schemes seem to be the prime reason for the formation of ravines.

In spite of various government programmes, ravines continue to develop fast in this region, like a cancer. Each of these programmes has its own strange stories.

In 1970-71, ‘ravine agriculture scheme’ was launched with the purpose of restoring shallow ravines for cultivation. Until 1990, only 1175-hectare land had been restored, but the total expenditure was more than one crore.

A big central scheme also came into existence in 1971, with an estimated expenditure of 1224 crores. The scheme had a total duration of 28 years, divided into four stages, and each stage had a component of affore station, agriculture, pasture, contour building, drainage and small dams. In 1972, the scheme was terminated in its first phase itself the scheme was conceived under the Ministry of Home Affairs. When in 1972, hundreds of dacoits of the Chambal region surrendered at the initiative of Jaya Prakash Narayan, the government thought it’s task was over in the ravine region, and there was no need to continue with the ravine reclamation programmes.

Thus, Arun Bhargav, Secretary, Science Centre, Gwalior, complains how the Central and the State Governments do not consider ravines as a burning environmental problem. For them, it was merely a law and order problem, since the ravines were infested with dacoits. For this reason, after the dacoits had surrendered, the Home Ministry felt no need for further restoration of the ravines.

The World Bank also arrived. With its generous aid, the government started a project called’ Aerial Seed Spreading’ in the ravines in 1980. The aim was to make green every year 12000-hectare of ravines, by sprinkling seeds from aeroplanes. A multinational company supposedly supplied the seeds They were of acacia, but of an alien quality. The project was doomed to fail. Only some patches of acacia plants are now visible, as the seeds dwindled away. Vishwanath Singh Parwar of Mrigpura village quips how aerial projects like these remain only on air.

Aside from the ravines’ restoration programmes, there have been other developmental programmes in the region, which have created rather than solved problems for the ravine-affected villages. Chambal canal irrigation promised a green revolution and increased agricultural production for the region. It did achieve some of its goals, but they remained limited mostly to the non-ravine regions.

Right on the banks of Chambal river is the Barwai village. It has been affected by ravines and at the same time, is now badly affected by water logging, due to canal irrigation. Almost 100 acres of land is lost. Goshpur is a village in Morena District, which has been equally affected by ravines and water logging in the recent past. The canal system had made the groundwater level so high that water flows out from the village wells and makes the land marshy. Some parts of the village are totally waterlogged. “Few years ago, the government officers assured us that if we went in for sterilisation, our new problems like water logging and drainage would be solved.

Some did go for it, but nothing came out in the end,” Satyavan, a resident of the village, informs us Ravines kill land, agriculture, greenery, vegetation — all that symbolises civilisation, but they can never kill the human and societal efforts to save themselves from decay and destruction. Villagers want to live, to farm, to marry, and amidst failures of various kinds, try different experiments, which might work. Some indeed have worked. Even amidst miles and miles of dry, lifeless ravines, stand out some patches of green, cultivated land.

Sirsani village in Morena District turned 15-20 feet deep ravines into plains and started cultivation. Since a lot of ravine area was under the government and villagers had no ownership right over it, they faced the threat of legal action. The Government gave a reward of Rs. 250 per bigha, but this was no incentive for doing such hard and risky work of ravine reclamation. Villages now have more or less stopped their efforts in this direction.

Rudawali has witnessed both success and failure Villagers had, on their own, made a basic, rough dam to put a halt to the expansion of ravines near the village. However, this was washed away in rains and flood. However, the villagers were successful in creating obstacles in several small nalas and stopping water flow within the village. The villagers of Naya Baans did the same. Rajkumar claims how their efforts have not stopped the ravines completely, but have slowed down the process considerably. Moreover, they are at least able to survive here.

The ravines were to approach Mahuwa village. The worried villagers did not lose heart and collectively built a boundary wall around the village. It was saved. Palukapura village also reveals that villagers can control the upward move of ravines to some extent. Though ravines had spread around the village, villagers have been successful in saving their houses for many years, by making rough dams and stairs within the pits and nalas.

Kadaura village of Bhind District has organised its efforts against the ravines in a sustained manner. The village and its border have been filled up with massive plantation. Grasses of several local varieties, which tie up the soil, have been planted in and around the village. The villagers express with courage that they are ready to do whatever is possible to stop the ravines. If they get some support, they feel that they can even build a dam.

The above cases tell us that ravines are not an invincible or in surmountable phenomenon They can be challenged with the help of new policy perspectives and with the active support of villagers.

The demand to lease out ravine land to farmers is echoed in many villages. In Amba block, some residents of Bilpur and Kuthiana village claim that some 20 years ago, they had got government lands in ravines on lease. They have made that land cultivable and since then possess it.

Bhai Mahavir, well-known in the ravine region of Madhya Pradesh for his deep involvement, and who was the chairperson of the ‘Chambal Valley Peace Mission’, once expressed that the success or failure of any ravine related programme depended on how far the villagers were involved in it. The only way to ensure their participation was to make the Government leave its ownership rights over the ravines and give it to the farmers on lease. In addition, farmers should get all the support needed for the purpose.

The Government had promised that once the problem of dacoits was over, it would make all efforts for the development of the region However, today the ravmes themselves have become a terror, and without any genuine developmental efforts, they face the terror of both dacoits and ravines in the future.

Language: English

Fellowship Year: 2000

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