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Back-to-back dry spells in Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh lead to one of the worst droughts in years. Bundelkhand is India’s one of the largest pulse growing belts and hence, the effect could be seen in the sharp hikes of the legumes throughout the country. The havoc was due to lack of protective irrigation cover which forced a large number of people to leave their homeland. To help the people, Akhilesh Yadav, the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh left no stone unturned. From personally distributing Samajwadi Pension Plan cheques to giving free ration to all, the UP government was always there to help the farmers.

Akhilesh Government went ahead to dig hundreds of wells and ponds in the drought affected area to ensure sustainable help for the residents but of course, more would be needed.

Bundelkhand’s population density, as per the 2011 Census, was 328 persons per square km, below the 828 persons for the rest of the state and average landholding for the region, at 1.43 hectares, is also higher than the 0.76 hectares for the whole of UP. Taking the above facts into account, the UPCM conceived a scheme under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, which offers a 50 per cent subsidy to farmers for construction of farm ponds. Under the scheme, the farmer would contribute half of this amount, with the government subsidising the balance 50%. At the same time, the farmer was given the freedom to hire the machine for construction himself. Besides, even if he engaged family rather than hired labour, the government would not reduce its absolute subsidy contribution of Rs. 52,500. This flexibility gave a huge boost to the speedy construction of farm ponds. In this manner, each hectare will have its own water pond.

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The state government has subsequently sanctioned 2,500 new farm ponds for Bundelkhand. Of these, 1,200 will be of 3,100 cubic meters size that can store enough water to give one irrigation over 2.5 hectares. Bundelkhand, as already pointed out, is a pulses bowl. These, unlike paddy or wheat, require only one or, at most, two irrigations after planting. The farm ponds — which are brimming with water after a good monsoon this time — will be of immense use for the crops grown during the winter rabi season.

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The UP government’s initiative was launched in April this year in all the seven Bundelkhand districts falling in UP: Jalaun, Jhansi, Lalitpur, Hamirpur, Mahoba, Banda, and Chitrakoot. Initially, 2,000 farm ponds were sanctioned, of which 500 were earmarked for the worst-hit Mahoba district. The fact that 1,900 ponds got built by end of June before the onset of the monsoon was proof of the farmers’ enthusiastic response to the scheme, in which NGOs and officials also played major roles. Many farmers, in fact, even invested extra money to construct ponds of larger size.

Assured irrigation created through farm ponds has led to some farmers in Bundelkhand even planning rearing of fish or taking a water crops in their fields. There could also be scope to earn extra income from planting of fruit-bearing trees on the bunds. By enabling harvesting and conservation of rainwater, creating irrigation potential and providing a means of drought proofing, farm ponds have shown they can be a potential game-changer for even parched regions like Bundelkhand.