Bundelkhand: drought, miseries and hope

What needs to be done to overcome environmental challenges of the region

By Anil Gupta
Published: Monday 09 June 2014

What needs to be done to overcome environmental challenges of the region

In recent decades, Bundelkhand has become a synonym for drought, unemployment and perennial water stress. UNESCO’s recent publication on “internal migration”   initially didn’t focus on disaster-induced migration, but included displacements due to large dams changing water regimes, water-stressed areas with looming food and livelihood crisis, and, of course, conflicts of varying degrees and nature.

Bundelkhand comprises 13 districts, covering Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh in Central India. Known tourist places in and around Bundelkhand remain devoid of economic influx, unproductive cattle like its youth power, local people caught in customs, rituals and extraordinary belief in god, farmers seldom experimenting with innovations and trials for self-reliance, are some examples of the other side of “adaptation” in Bundelkhand, which now climate scientists prefer to call as “mal-adaptation”.

States' interventions v region's needs 

Water policy and water governance (usually rarely under the framework of integrated natural resource management or environmental governance) at state level are (prominently) drafted in their capitals—mostly influenced by economically sustainable and socially aware regions that are often well represented in parliamentary committees, experts groups and discussion forums. As a result, there are questions raised about whether the states' interventions (particularly of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh) are directly concerned with Bundelkhand’s need and acceptability in the ecological and social settings of its areas? The concern is also somewhere related with (though suppressed and meagre)  the demand for Bundelkhand as a separate state, which is scientifically and environmentally justified when looked at from the lens of drought, land and micro level socio-economic challenges in the region.
I owe my birth to Bundelkhand, and had an opportunity to witness its water poverty and socio-political challenges that I must call “miseries”. At first, I refused to join Bundelkhand University after first exposure to the water-stressed summer of April 2001 (I recall it was then April 19, but I joined finally on May 19 and worked until September 2006). There are districts which faced consecutive droughts for more than five or six years. Datia district experienced nine drought years in the 12 years from 1998-2009. There are districts termed as Bimaru (signifying most backward—for example, Banda). Tikamgarh in Madhya Pradesh, with rich history but with grave socio-economic disparities, is another example. On the other hand, Lalitpur district has both types – gravely hit but also areas sustaining their bio-productivity through efficient water management and ecosystem maintenance. With two-third population living in poverty, Bundelkhand’s more than 70 per cent population is rural.

Sustainable solutions

With some vision on key questions and to find solutions for environmental sustainability and socio-economic prosperity in Bundelkhand that I generated working during 2001-2006, a research initiative was launched by the National Institute of Disaster Management in 2011. Key issues which emerged from the past interaction and recent study are following:


  1. Land-resources and land-use management is key to socio-economic sustainability. There is a need to develop a locally relevant policy for sustainable development to be drawn using bottom-up consultations along with expert and research inputs, covering aspects of livelihood, integrated land-water management with agricultural diversification, ecosystem services and sustainability, industrial growth, socio-political uplifting and locally relevant skill-oriented education.
  2. A network of institutions in Bundelkhand and with input/centres from other Institutions – A Çonsortium for environmental and socially relevant developmental research needs to be promoted. There are universities, ICAR institutes of grassland, fodder and agroforestry, TARA Habitat Academy, medical institutions and NGOs need to join with national institutions on forestry, land & water, disaster management, etc.
  3. An audit mechanism to evaluate various schemes and programmes of the government on spatial and temporal background needs to be established to examine their social and environmental implications – scale of benefits and sections of beneficiaries distribution. An approach called ‘mitigation analysis’ (coined by NIDM with reference to drought) as a simple approach can be enforced.
  4. Local level integrated planning leading to districting level planning can prove directly beneficial. Strategy and action plan for water, environment and natural resources must be integrated for smooth and effective implementation.

Sustainable development is a broad and complex subject but has no alternative, especially when we look at challenges and miseries of Bundelkhand. Water management at all levels—household, farm, landscape and ecosystem and as well as village, taluka and district levels—need to be undertaken as a mission for socio-economic uplift and to remove disparities. Finally, there has to be strong political and administrative will—whether mooted by public opinion, awareness or academic movements. Prime goal needs to be one.

Anil Gupta heads the Division of Policy Planning, and Training & Capacity Development at India's National Institute of Disaster Management at IIPA campus in New Delhi. He can be reached at envirosafe2007@gmail.com,anil.nidm@nic.in,

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