Version classiqueVersion mobile

Indian Villages

Gilbert Etienne

Part II – The Green Revolution and After

Chapter 7 – Peninsular India I

Texte intégral

1After the alluvial plains, already irrigated or containing a large untapped potential, it is time to proceed to peninsular India, the Deccan, with its severe geographical constraints: dominance of rainfed crops, often poor soils, limited irrigation potential, and its erratic and often low rainfall. Except in the case of Eksal, the surveys here started in 1978.

Jodhpur District, Rajasthan

2Few areas face such severe geographical constraints as western Rajasthan with the Thar Desert and other very arid tracts. The average rainfall in Jodhpur is 320 mm, which is very erratic, leading to severe droughts. The soil is often sandy and of poor quality. The water table is buried deep under layers of rock, often 100–150 metres deep, which makes the digging of a well an expensive and difficult proposition and the supply of water is not always certain. The lack of drinking water can be acute. However, the area has seen substantial development with a fall in poverty levels, at least in the not so isolated villages.

3Passing through Jodhpur in 1959, I came across a rather dormant little town. Between 1979, when I conducted my first survey, and 2002, many changes have taken place. Jodhpur city has expanded with growing bazaars and many small and medium industries. There is a construction boom, with houses being made of stone sourced from local quarries. The number of tube wells has increased. Wheat yields have more than doubled in the period from 1970 to 2002 reaching 2,000-2,200 kg/ha. Mustard cultivation is expanding. Bajra, small millet, which is particularly drought resistant, reaches 400–600 kg/ha under good rains, and half that quantity with poor rains, or nothing under a severe drought. Low-yield pulses are also cultivated.

4The installation of tube wells ushered in vegetable cultivation, including that of chillies. Cattle do well, except during drought years. It is striking to see crossbred cows (supplying 6–8 litres per day) grazing on such poor soils. Every day, trucks loaded with milk cans leave for Delhi and Jaipur. As in other progressive areas, cars, motorcycles and telephones have become increasingly popular since the 1990s. Tractors have practically eliminated bullocks for ploughing, but carts on rubber tyres pulled by a camel are still quite common.

5In 1992, in Jawar village, 22 km away from Jodhpur, I meet Babula, a Bhangi, along with his wife and four children. They live in a nice whitewashed brick house, which the family got from the government. They have a cow and 15 goats, which they sell after one year. They sell eggs produced by their 15 hens. They use their two bullocks to pull a light cart for transport. In addition, they earn money by doing casual work for landowners. Despite all this, Babula can just about make ends meet.

6Kanga Ram, Babula’s neighbour, is also a Bhangi. He owns a few hectares of bajra. He transports and sells milk on his bicycle and also does casual agricultural work. He has recently set up a small flourmill. Kanga Ram, smartly dressed like his neighbour, appears to be better off, both economically and socially, than many Bhangis I met in the Ganges basin. Both Babula and Kanga Ram have given up their “unclean” jobs of scavenging and/or raising pigs.

7As one drives towards Osian, one comes across a village of Mochis (Chamars), who have continued to practise their traditional occupation. They make leather goods, including shoes, the demand for which is growing (see below). They have some goats and cows, whose milk is consumed at home. They also cultivate bajra or work as labourers. Each Mochi has three sets of clothes. They eat three times a day, enjoying meat occasionally.

8Although these surveys are more limited than those conducted in the Ganges basin, several facts lead one to think that acute poverty is relatively limited even among Dalits. During all my visits, I found that daily wages here were at the same level found in the Green Revolution districts. In 2002, the wages reached Rs 50–60 in villages that enjoyed some irrigation. Deeper within the interior, in the vicinity of the Thar Desert, the wages can fall to Rs 35–45.

9Let us stop in a Hindu Jat village. Chota Ram lives with his parents, his wife and children, and two young brothers. They own 10 ha. Their TW, with an attached tank, supplies water to 8 ha. The water table is 80 m deep. They must use a powerful engine of 20 HP. Digging in this rocky terrain is also expensive. They have started to make compost and use it, along with chemical fertilizers, in order to curb soil deterioration. They grow wheat and are now pushing vegetables and take care to avoid pest and diseases. Rainfed terrains bear bajra, used mostly as fodder. The family owns one tractor and one motorcycle. When they need agricultural workers, they pay them Rs 50 per day (2002).

10Their neighbour, also a Jat, belongs to a large joint-family: four brothers, wives and children, forty all together with 16 ha of land, out which 4 to 5 are irrigated by two TWs (25 HP) pumping water from a depth of 100 m. In addition to wheat and vegetables, they look after 20 cows and buffalos for self-consumption and the sale of milk. They have recently started to cultivate spices and fruit like pomegranates. They have a phone, a motorcycle and a tractor. Oddly enough, the Jats in Rajasthan have succeeded in being classified as OBCs (Other Backward Classes), although by right they claim the status of Kshatriyas.

11Kumar Ram, a Mali by caste (gardener) manages his 29 ha shrewdly with his five sons. He has constructed 5 TWs, each with 25-30 HP, high-powered engines, able to pump water from the water table, 100 m deep. The threshing ground is red with chillies being dried after harvest. After being sown in April–May they are transplanted in July. Several pickings – every fortnight – take place between November and February. Production costs are high but they are fully compensated by sales, in spite of price fluctuations.

12Driving towards Osian and its fine temples, we stop at the mansion of Bahadur Singh, a Rajput of the old gentry who has been in the state administration. He runs 29 ha, one third belonging to his brother who lives outside. Again the cost of irrigation is high, 6 ha are covered by a TWs powered by 25 HP. The water table is 100 m deep and is falling by around 1 m per year. Some workers are carefully transplanting onions. Other fields bear chillies and a new variety of mustard yielding 1,900 kg/ha, double that of traditional varieties. Wheat yields 2,000 kg/ha. We have a long talk on all kinds of problems. Our host deplores the declining law and order situation, corruption, and the fall of ancient values. While regretfully invoking the “good old days” he nevertheless agrees that the overall economic and social situation has improved.

13The progress of irrigation needs qualifications. Shortage of electricity is the first matter of complaint. Then, the water table may tend to fall if there are too many TWs in a village, or if there is a drought preventing recharge of water. Jodhpur district benefits from the Indira Gandhi Canal, a huge project started in 1958. The main canal starts from the Harike Barrage below the confluence of the Sutlej and Beas Rivers in Punjab. Water flows for 650 km across Rajasthan, supplying drinking water and irrigation through branch canals.

14In spite of this progress, water saving techniques remain crucial. Sprinklers for wheat may not always work, mainly because of evaporation of water during the hot season. Drip systems are more appropriate but work only for vegetables or fruit. They save half of the water. In 1979, I came across the first new systems. Encouraged by state subsidies, they are progressing but need to proceed faster, because it is more and more difficult to combine the progress of irrigation with agricultural growth. As for drinking water, in spite of progress, one still comes across villages from which women have to walk two to three kilometres to fetch water.

15The impact of economic diversification is striking. Landless agricultural workers represent 5.7% of the working population in Jodhpur district according to the 2001 census. As for non-agricultural workers, they constituted 50% of the population in Jodhpur, as compared to 43% in Thanjavur and 44% in Bulandshahr. Quarrying, construction, and some modern industries like steel processing are important in the district. The town keeps on expanding with new quarters of fine houses (1 million inhabitants in 2002). Vegetable belts with chillies, radishes, and onions are growing, often cultivated by Jats who until recently looked down upon vegetable cultivation. Handicrafts have grown enormously. They include textiles, painted cloths, fine wooden chests, leather goods, pottery, jewellery, wooden boxes, and furniture. In 2001, exports reached Rs 8 billion, a hundred times more than its corresponding figure in 1991 (at current prices). Tourism, both foreign and Indian, is no less conspicuous, with the proliferation of plenty of hotels of all categories catering to visitors, particularly in Jodhpur. When my wife and I first visited Jaisalmer in 1959, we stayed in a shabby guest house. There was only one other visitor at the time, a young British scientist collecting insects. Today both Jodhpur and Jaisalmer have become big tourist centres with plenty of hotels and shops of all kinds. Also, both have important military bases, creating other sources of employment for the local population.

16Jodhpur, like other districts of Rajasthan, has a long tradition of fighting drought and preventing famines through special schemes supplying job opportunities to poor people. The NREGA follows this approach even without the advent of emergencies. The supply of subsidized grain is ensured. These different measures do not work so smoothly everywhere. During the drought of 2002, Baran district was badly hit. The Sahariyas, an Adivasi tribe treated like untouchables, were seriously neglected by the local administration; as a result there have been cases of starvation deaths. Some officials commented: “The Sahariyas drink away their wages” (Outlook, 4-11-02) – a criticism often heard concerning some Dalit castes or Adivasis (see Chapters 4 and 8).

Latest Trends

17While all these trends are encouraging, the future is not as secure as one would wish. Only 8–10% of the cultivated area is irrigated in 2002, mostly through tube wells or open wells-cum-pump sets and these do not always supply enough water. The water table is declining (it fell by 20 m between 1970 and 1990) because of excessive pumping, leading to lack of recharge in the water table. One still comes across villages depending only on poor rainfed bajra (small millet); these habitations are surrounded by a semi-desert and bushes, which more or less feed the cattle. Overgrazing and the wind are accelerating soil erosion. To help restore soils, gypsum is required. Better yielding fodder, like lucerne and barseem, is needed in such districts where cows and milk are so important. The population growth rate in Rajasthan is one of the fastest in India because of very weak family planning campaigns, amounting to 20% between 2001 and 2011.

  • 4 Data collected from Jodhpur District Office.

18The latest trends until 2011 offer a mixed picture. Investments, particularly in construction, kept on increasing like the expansion of small-scale industries employing 94,200 workers in 2008/2009, particularly in handicrafts. Milk remains important with daily collections of 400,000 l, much of which is sent outside the district. Coarse grains’ output varies depending on good or poor monsoons. Irrigation is increasing only moderately and as a result wheat progress is not striking. Finally the 2011 census gives a population of 3.685 million people, a considerable increase of 27.7% during the decade, and a sex ratio of 915.4 When shall family planning take root here?

Eksal, Maharashtra

19Eksal and Satara district are situated in the rain shadow belt of Maharashtra, with the monsoon being held by the Western Ghats. As we have seen (Chapter 2), irrigation was quite limited until the 1960s. Out-migrations from villages were acting as a safety valve against poverty. Such migrations keep on growing, stimulated by the global development of Maharashtra. In addition to the big cities, Bombay and Pune, district towns like Satara are growing fast, and attracting villagers. As a result, and taking into account migrants coming from other states, Maharashtra has an urban rate of 45% of the population (For the whole of India, according to the 2011 census, the figure was 31%).

20Since 1964, irrigation has increased considerably in Eksal, an uncommon case in peninsular India. 35 to 40% of the state is drought prone, with the number of rainy days varying between 40 and 100 days. Out of a net cultivated area of 17.4 million ha, 2.2 million ha were irrigated in 2005 (report of the Water Management Department, Govt. of Maharashtra, September 2006).

21In January 1979, the dynamic trends observed in 1964 are fully confirmed. The mot system (bullocks pulling a bag of water from the well) has been replaced by 40 pump sets on open wells, relying on either oil engines or on electricity, which has reached the village. It would hardly be possible to add many more wells, especially when considering the limited rains and the depth of the water table. In the hottest months of April and May, one may have to limit the withdrawal of water, which would affect one-year crops like sugarcane. The irrigated area increasing from 92 to 130 ha paved the way for 28 ha of wheat cultivation giving 1,500 kg/ha, a mediocre yield, and for some hybrid jowar (HYV) with good yields of 1,750 to 2,000 kg/ha versus half or less when rains fail. Jowar remains the main food grain and is mostly rainfed. Sugarcane, potatoes, vegetables, and orchards including vineyards are growing with a good return. Soybean is introduced in the 1980s, and groundnuts give a better yield (both crops are rainfed). In 2002, one counts 80 Jersey crossbred cows delivering 10-12 l per day. The local cooperative arranges for the transport of milk by motorcycle or cycle to Koregaon.

22In 1986, a big change occurs. Eksal was brought under the coverage of the Dhom Canal, a major irrigation project coming from a reservoir on the Krishna River. The irrigated area reached 300 ha out of a total of 670 ha. The pump sets also benefited from the seepage of water from the canal. One must however mention complaints about poor maintenance, occasionally restricting the supply of water.

23Overall, economic growth has clearly overtaken the population increase: 1,173 in 1961 and 2,378 in 2001. In 2002, daily wages amounted to Rs 60 for men and Rs 40–45 for women. The diversification of the local economy has created more jobs for small landowners and landless labourers. The latter are much less numerous than in the densely populated districts (335 persons per sq km compared to 600–1,000 per sq km). However, as elsewhere, the number of landholdings has increased but their size is falling. Now about half of them are less than 1 ha, and many others are between 1 and 2 ha. Even with 0.4 ha properly irrigated (fruits, vegetables) and 0.4 ha rainfed, a farmer can manage to survive, especially if one or two members of the family work outside the village. These outlets or safety valves keep on increasing, not only as one approaches the big cities, but also in Satara, a modern city by now, or even Koregaon which is becoming a small, lively town. At the bus stand, plenty of motor rickshaw owners wait for customers, while in Patna, the capital of Bihar, cycle rickshaws were still predominant in 2002. 20% of workers have jobs outside the block.

24More changes occurred between our visits of 1993 and 2003. By that date, there were 100 telephone connections, one public telephone, 15 jeeps or cars, 7 tractors, and several dozen motorcycles. A private doctor has opened a clinic in the village. There are plenty of new houses and shops. Several farmers are improving their irrigation by using plastic pipes to reach higher ground. From 1995 onwards, the drip system is improving for orchards. Tractors, thresher machines, sprayers for pesticides, and flour mills make life easier for the farmers. The Panchayat has set up more hand pumps for drinking water and a water tower with pipes, which is not working properly because of leakages.

25Migrants commute to and from Satara, while others are in Bombay or Pune. The well-known Maratha regiment continues to attract young men. Family planning keeps on expanding. More than ever, farmers focus on rich crops. The climate is more favourable to sugarcane than in UP which explains a good yield of 100 tonnes/ha, (50 to 60 tonnes/ha in Bulandshahr) processed in the sugar mill opened in Koregaon; also, onions, potatoes, vegetables and fruit are increasingly benefitting from irrigation and supply farmers with enough cash to buy food grains if necessary. However, sharp market fluctuations and pest are matters of concern. That is why farmers keep some sugarcane with substantially lower return, but which offer more stable prices. At the same time, farmers are becoming increasingly aware of the need to promote more organic manure, in addition to chemical fertilizers, on irrigated plots.

26A number of Maratha farmers are living better now. Sampat Dadu Bhosle maintains his wife, his children and old parents on 2 ha. Thanks to his pump set on his well, he irrigates 0.20 ha of papaya trees and red chillies. Other irrigated plots are devoted to hybrid jowar, requiring a low dose of chemical fertilizers. His rainfed land located on poor soils yields only 200-500 kg/ha of jowar. He also has some fodder for his cows. Another Maratha, Shankar Gopal Bhosle, 32 years old, enjoys better living conditions, with his wife, one son and one daughter, his parents and his younger brother who is at school. Out of his 2 ha, one is irrigated with potatoes, beans, hybrid jowar and some paddy. Rainfed crops give the equivalent of 300 kg/ha of jowar. The family just about produces enough grain when the rains are good. The family is helped by the remittances of the two brothers, one who is in the army, and the other working in a textile mill in Bombay.

27During each of my visits, I meet Govin Pandurang, a Mahar (see Chapter 2). Although he is growing old (2002), he remains fit. He sells some of the milk produced by his two buffaloes. He has set up a biogas plant, which supplies electricity and manure. With the help of his wife, he grows grapes on 0.1 ha. On another 0.1 ha, he has planted onions. On another plot of similar dimensions, he grows irrigated hybrid jowar (High-Yield Variety) in the monsoon, followed by potatoes in the rabi. His two sons, after finishing school, have found jobs in Pune. One of them has temporarily returned home to help his father. He wears a smart shirt and a pair of well-cut trousers.

28Not all the Mahars have succeeded as well as Govin Pandurang, but several of them are becoming better off, like the small Maratha landowners. This remarkable reorientation of agriculture (thanks to irrigation) towards the cultivation of fruits, vegetables, flowers and animal husbandry, combined with government subsidies for drip irrigation, can be found in other parts of Satara and in other districts of Marathwada. This shows the way towards the future. At the same time, in spite of the shrinking size of farm holdings, a man like Govin Pandurang can lead a decent life on 0.33 ha of irrigated land. As during my previous visits, in 2002 I was impressed by the competence of the administration with, at its head, a smart and competent IAS CEO.


29All these achievements need qualifications. As in other advanced areas, one hears alarm bells in Eksal: the supply of electricity is not adequate, though the situation is better than in UP. The canals need better maintenance. Marketing facilities require improvements, such as more cold-storage houses, better packing and quality controls, especially for exports. Extension services need to adapt to a more complex pattern of rural development. Credit is excessively biased in favour of rich farmers. Nevertheless, we find in Eksal one image of what can be the future of rural India: a decrease in the cultivation of rainfed crops along with their limited growth potential compared to activities bringing better returns and offering more job opportunities.

30Many parts of Maharashtra, with their limited irrigation potential, face much less favourable conditions than Eksal. The situation of the poor remains precarious unless they leave their villages and migrate in search of work. Mharwad, 70 km from Koregaon, is surrounded by a desolate landscape: no vegetation, reddish-grey soils and with few dusty tracks leading to villages. The population density only amounts to 80 persons per sq km, but people depend on such poor soils and only 400 mm of rain per year. The Dorabji Tata Trust started a rural project as early as 1952: supply of drinking water, small dams and improved jowar. It was covering 9,500 people, but the majority of the area could not be reached by the project.

31On a Sunday in September 2002, we set off, my wife and I, from Mumbai in a de luxe train for Lonavala, a small hill station in the Western Ghats (mountain ranges along the western coast of India). It attracts crowds of young, upper-class people, representing the new elites of Mumbai, dressed in jeans and t-shirts, girls included, who come by car or motorcycle to enjoy the fresh air, and visit the discos and coffee shops. From there we drive 40 km on a terrible road until we reach some extremely miserable hamlets nestled in the Western Ghats, with hardly any sign of development. Here the daily wages amount to Rs 25, not even half of Eksal. Mediocre rainfed paddy is grown here and poor cattle could be found grazing nearby. This stark contrast showed how the India of the twenty-first century is ignoring the “other” India.


4 Data collected from Jodhpur District Office.


Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.


Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search