In the Lalitpur district of Uttar Pradesh, at the western edge of Bundelkhand region in central India, you do not have to knock on doors to learn of people’s grievances. They pour out. An outsider walking around the streets with a notebook and a pen is a person of interest to everyone. Whenever I began speaking to a person sitting on his haunches by the road or his arid field, villagers would gather around. “Note my name too,” I was told repeatedly.
In November 2015, 50 districts in the state were declared drought-hit; the seven in Bundelkhand are among the worst affected. Crops of soybean and urad dal were laid waste by the rainless monsoon, and now the unnaturally hot winter is stunting the growth of wheat. Several newspapers have reported on rural distress and farmer suicides in the region. Despite government schemes that guarantee work, opportunities for employment are scarce. It was a matter of earnest consensus among the villagers I spoke to that the government should do something about it.
On paper at least, the government has done something. In the first week of January this year, Home Minister Rajnath Singh chaired a committee that approved an amount of Rs 1304 crore as assistance for the state. Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was present at these meetings. That was more than a month before I visited Lalitpur. So far, the money does not seem to have trickled down to its intended beneficiaries and when it will, remains an open question. No one I spoke to had even heard of the relief package.