"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.
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".
We drive several hundred kilometres from the state capital, Ranchi, to Latehar, Palamu and Garhwa districts in the north-west.
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."
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.
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."
BBC / 1 August 2009
The government declared Jharkhand a drought-hit state
The government on Saturday declared Jharkhand a drought-hit state due to the scanty rainfall in last two months. The decision was taken at a meeting of the advisory council to governor K Sankaranarayanan which was chaired by G Krishnan.
Earlier, the state government had declared 11 districts - Latehar, Chatra, Garhwa, Palamu, Giridih, Pakur, Dumka, Sahebgunj, Deoghar, Godda and Jamtara - as drought-hit. The remaining 13 districts, including Ranchi, were also declared drought-hit as the state this year registered 50 per cent of the normal rainfall.
The officials concerned were asked to ensure adequate supply of foodgrains in all the districts and make efforts to generate maximum employment through government-sponsored schemes including NREGA.
Cabinet secretary PK Jajodia said the advisory council also approved a package of Rs 360 crore for supplementary nutrition. "It was also decided that 12,500 more shops under public distribution system (PDS) would be opened in the state to tackle the situation effectively," said Jajodia. Licence for a PDS shop will now be given for a population of 1,000 families.
The district administrations were asked to ensure foodgrain stock of at least 10 quintals in every panchayat of the state to meet any emergency situation. "It was also decided that instead of handing over the stock to licensees at the godowns, it will be delivered at the doorsteps," said Jajodia.
The council also approved the proposal for dissolution of the PDS Complaint Commission and gave consent for the post of an ombudsman in its place.
In another important decision, the council approved the merger of departments to make the functioning of government more effective. The total number of departments has been reduced from 43 to 25.
"When the state was formed in November 2000, there were only 19 departments, but it increased to 43 in last eight years. The council gave its approval to reduce the number of departments and merge some existing ones," said Jajodia.
TNN 2 August 2009
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