Postcard from Banda

SKOCH Team of experts went on a field visit to the district in February 2020 for an impact assessment and governance evaluation. It was found that most of the projects and their resultant outcomes have been the result of an out-of-the-box thinking

Sixty-year old Devi Dayal Khyaliya was a Professor of Music at Mahatma Gandhi Gramodaya Vishwavidyalaya in Chitrakoot. Unfortunately, he is serving a term in Banda Jail since December 2019. Belonging to Rabiya Gharana of music, jail walls did not deter him from carrying on his ‘riyaz’ and music practice. So much so that he has found dedicated disciples from amongst jail inmates who were keen to sing and take to music. The Jail Superintendent cooperated and encouraged this practice and provided Khyaliya with ‘dholak’ and harmonium and allowed the maestro to start an informal school of music in Jail. His class of nearly 30 pupils starts at 1030 hrs daily and goes on till lunch. “Right now, I am teaching them devotional music (bhajans) and local folklore (lokgeet). They have picked up classical singing, I am surprised. As a teacher, I am surrounded by my students and jail authorities have given me full freedom with all the requested musical instruments. I can see a change in their mindset,” said Khyaliya.

This is one change, in addition to many others that Banda District in Bundelkhand region is experiencing.

Historically, Banda is one of the backward districts that has historically suffered with problems of malnutrition, poor employment opportunities, drinking water and irrigation. The suffering over a period has been further compounded by poor rainfall that led to widespread migration from the district. This led to the progress indicators suffer quite a lot till such time some of the innovative steps were taken to bring growth back to the district.

SKOCH Team of experts went on a field visit to the district in February 2020 for an impact assessment and governance evaluation. It was found that most of the projects and their resultant outcomes have been the result of an out-of-the-box thinking

The district administration took the responsibility to lead this change, also by infusing information and communication technologies (ICT) across sectors and leverage from their application. Innovation based Startups have been given a boost, self-employment training and capacity building was taken up and a number of innovative projects across water conservation, jail reforms and afforestation were added to the list. SKOCH Team of experts went on a field visit to the district in February 2020 for an impact assessment and governance evaluation. It was found that most of the interventions and their resultant outcomes have been the result of an out-of-the-box thinking wherein attempt was made for it be process driven.

[tie_index]Jai Reforms[/tie_index]

Jail Reforms

There is a total of 72 Jails in Uttar Pradesh. Majority of them are more than 100 years old – Banda Jail being one. The Jails are supposed to transform the inmates but when Heera Lal joined Banda as its DM, under the mandated minimum one visit each month to the Jail, he found during his first interaction with the inmates that they were depressed. Instead of working towards their transformation and detaching them from their past, they were being pushed further into darkness was the first impression DM got. The ambiance was unkempt, walls were ill-maintained with plaster coming off at places, unpainted premises, poor facilities and so on.

“Our jails have historically been in bad shape. I found that the jail environment was extremely depressing and felt that instead of reforming them, we are making them depressed. I wanted to see them smile and as a very first step I introduced a routine in their life starting with Yoga. I created Master Yoga Trainers and now everyone wakes up at 4 AM, does Yoga and have improved their health. Half of the problem was sorted. Weekly, everyone gets together for 3 hrs and one of them leads a cultural activity and everyone has started looking forward to it,” Heera Lal, the then DM told us.

Shiv Prasad, Dureri has been in Jail since 2016. He has become a Yoga instructor who said, waking up early was something no one did in the Jail.

I introduced games and identified talent and encouraged them to start painting starting with the Jail walls. Everyone has become busy and engaged in various activities within the four walls of the Jail. Out of 72 Jails in UP, Banda Jail today is at top, Heera Lal informed.

Lav Kush, has been in Jail since 2015. He has picked up hand fan making, encouraged by the Jail Superintendent. The raw materia is provided by the Jail administration. He said, I make about four of them in a week and work daily for about 4-5 hrs. I have taught this craft to about 12 inmates as well.

36 year old Raees Khan is from Fatehpur and is serving a 10-year term. He has picked up hand fan making from Kush and said that this is a good group activity that keeps us busy. Our thinking has become positive from when we used to sit idle all day. I am looking forward to taking this as a vocation when I am free, he said.

Encouraged by this initiative in the Jail, Pradeep Kumar, who teaches at a nearby school has voluntarily started visiting the Jail twice a week since February 2019 to teach the inmates. He said, this is a very satisfying experience. There was a resistance earlier, but now everyone looks forward to it.

Water Conservation

As per Ground Water Year Book published by Central Ground Water Board, Ministry of Jal Shakti (2015-16), there are 14 observation wells in district Banda. The maximum range of fluctuation is 3.20 m (Rise) and 5.26m (Fall) annually indicating high seasonal variability in availability of water in wells. Overall, about 71 per cent of the wells were showing ground water depletion with 50 per cent wells showing 0-2m, 7 per cent showing 2-4m and 15 per cent showing more than 4 m depletion annually. This was an alarming situation in the district.

Focusing on the community engagement and ownership model using Jal Chaupal covering all the Gram Panchayats, a movement was initiated for mass action on water conservation, rainwater harvesting and recharge of ground water. Bundelkhand being a dry region had been experiencing depleting water table for years. Awareness and ICE activities became an integral part of it that triggered mass community action. The innovative tools were developed and used in Jal Chaupal on water budgeting including ground water risk assessment and reminding people of culture of treating the water bodies with respect and reverence. This became a key feature of the campaign.

Focusing on the community engagement and ownership model using Jal Chaupal covering all the Gram Panchayats, a movement was initiated for mass action on water conservation, rainwater harvesting and recharge of ground water.

As many as 471 Jal Choupals (village water parliament) on water budgeting and ground water recharge were conducted. The District Administration took the conscious decision to make it multi-institutional to involve the civil society and experts and engaged with Water Aid India for technical support, Akhil Bhartiya Samaj Seva Sansthan for coordinating the campaign and MG Chitrakoot Gramodaya Vishwavidhayala to provide hand-holding support on implementation with the help of nodal officers of various line departments for ensuring and monitoring structured implementation.

The above have been taken up favourably under ‘Bhujal Badhao Pay Jal Bachao’ (enhance groundwater, protect drinking water campaign) and ‘Kuan Talab Jiao Abhiyan’ (save wells and water bodies) have become first of its kind of community engagement model in the Banda district. Under the two campaigns, the district has added 110,001 KL per annum of recharge capacity across 2,443 drinking water sources and constructed 27,62,512 ha meter per annum volume of annual water recharge capacity through various recharge structures between February 2019 to November 2019.

Meena Kumari has one handpump in front of her house which used to remain dry in summer months. She said that with the help of Gram Panchayat Naraini, the trenches around the handpump were dug up and soak pit was created. This does not allow water to go on waste and helps further recharge. Poonam also used face the problem of scarcity and toilet in her house was not used because of non-availability of water.  Now she has 24×7 water supply and the toilet is regularly used.

We have constructed soak pits around handpumps, trap rainwater from rooftop and channel it in underground tanks, said Vivek Kumar Singh from Tindwari Block. There is no wastage of water of any sort. Each year, by February, the water table used to drop, but for the last one year, we have not faced any problem, he added.

Using MGNREGA and Shramdaan, 2,605 contour trenches were dug around 260 wells and 2,163 hand pumps across 8 blocks and 470 Gram Panchayats, under the supervision of district engineers and handed over to the community to maintain. The community, during this while also constructed 82 rooftop rainwater harvesting-cum-recharging pits structures at different government buildings. With all the efforts combined, the district has added 27,62,512 ha meter per annum water recharge capacity.

Manoj Kumar of Gram Panchayat Benda is a MGNREGA worker and worked along with others on digging water ponds. He said, in one year since this is made, the water source has been created for the cattle as well as for irrigation. Even the dry handpumps have been recharged.

Farmer Rajju Vishkarma owns 12 bigha farm. He said, the problem of water scarcity that he faced year after year has been eased in last one year. There are dry spells in between but the crop is not damaged.

“When I joined as District Magistrate, water scarcity, malnutrition and unemployment were my main problems. I have taken many steps for the first time in the history of Banda. My philosophy is very simple, prepare people mentally to take care of their water resources, which are located in the village itself, whether it is handpumps, ponds, rivers or wells. I am happy that people have been extremely cooperative and have contributed to solving their own problems. These assets now belong to villages and citizens,” said Heera Lal.

Doubling farmers income

The Bundelkhand is a major pulses growing region of India. The livelihood of farm households in the region is dependent on agriculture and particularly on pulses as one of the major cultivated crop. The major growing pulse crops are pigeonpea, urdbean, and mungbean cultivated during Kharif and chickpea, field pea and lentil in Rabi season. Soil is fertile, but there has been shortage of water, the area mainly is rainfed.

Keeping the target of doubling farmers income by 2022, Banda has focused on water conservation and watershed management for improved water availability and introducing organic practices including encouraging farmers to use vermicompost. Banda annually produces 26,774 MT of pigeonpea, 2,615 MT of urdbean, 1,166 MT of mungbean. The objective is to double the production.

In the process, Banda organised ‘Arhar Sammelan’ on 10 February 2020 on the World Pulses Day and put together more than 500 progressive farmers from across the state; 53 organic farmers; 9,885 farmers; 6 agri startups; 500 millers; 16 Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs); and, experts from agriculture universities and also from International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad.

“Banda’s soil is fertile and is suitable for Arhar, which is a good produce here. This is because the farmers have been using vermicompost and cow dung in fields that increases the soil fertility. This has been an asset. But unfortunately, the produce of the district has no brand. I have tried to provide market linkages to this asset by creating a brand and from time to time invite specialists to teach and also learn from Banda’s experience. I have, for the first time, formed 16 FPOs, with assistance from NABARD. These initiatives will help double farmers income,” said Heera Lal.


Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) has been a big problem in the district. Decreasing infant mortality and improving maternal health depends heavily on reducing malnutrition. According to National Family Health Survey (NHFS), at least one child in two is suffering from malnutrition in the district. This means, 6.7 percent children were SAM and only 25 per cent new-borns were on exclusive breast feed.

With the help of UNICEF, for community management of SAM children, during the year 2018, 50 Aanganwadi centres were identified to manage over 150 SAM children. Following all the protocols, campaigns were organised in Naraini block to identify malnutrition among children from 0-5 years and were provided nutritious feed including ghee, vegetables, Til, jaggery, peanuts etc. The objective was to stop malnutrition from the days of pregnancy. Naraini campaign during the next one year was scaled to the entire district. More than 11,985 children were identified out of which, 14 per cent recovered. Ration has been distributed to targeted 10,105 families.

Green Banda

By declaring the district plastic-free, the administration has worked to stop the use of plastic including plastic pots and replaced this with mud pots for plantations. A campaign called “Jhola Yukt, Plastic Mukt” was started in order to encourage people to use eco-practices. Heera Lal promoted the use of mud pots and plantation in a unique way. He mandated that the Forest Department will sponsor the saplings to be distributed to the guests at a wedding or social function. The DM would personally visit and distribute the saplings with his blessings to the newly-weds. More than 20,000 saplings were distributed between 2019-20.

“I have managed to change the mindset of people in my district. When I joined, they were in a passive mode and were disheartened. They could not see hope for this region. That was the challenge and also my biggest achievement when I left. Now people are encouraged and confident that transformation is possible,” concluded Heera Lal who has since taken over as Additional Managing Director, National Health Mission, UP.

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