By Sarkaritel July 15, 2014 11:22


Drought Again, Sans Food, Water


By Poonam I Kaushish

15droughtOk, fellow countrymen, it is once again the season to curse all you want. The heat wave is blistering and Lord Indra is playing hooky once again, resulting in the perennial problem: Kahien sookha, kahein baarh. Big deal? Millions of words have been written on drought and floods and millions more will continue to be written. Everyone goes through the stereotype motions — famine, deluge and relief are freely bandied about. Raising a moot point: Does anyone really care?  Or is it just water off a duck’s back?

Honestly, one can empathize with Prime Minister Modi. He is correct when he asserts he hasn’t got the six-month honeymoon period having walked right into a Gulf oil crisis, a 43% shortfall in rain, read drought resulting in rising prices and hoarding, topped by inheriting a lackadaisical kaam chalao Administration which merely makes the appropriate noises and offers instant remedies. All satisfied that they have done their bit for the nation. Net result? Zilch.

To be fair to the BJP-led NDA Government it is acutely aware that a good monsoon is critical as two-thirds of India depend on farm income. Consequently, it is cracking down on hoarders of essential commodities and ensuring there is enough stockpiles of foodgrains to dispatch to drought-stricken areas. Conscious that people confronted with drought have three choices: One, die of hunger. Two, commit suicide. Three, eat insects, snakes and suffer. Reflecting the tragedy and brutality of 21st Century India.

Appallingly, despite the country boasting of great ancient rivers and plentiful waters, throats remain parched till death finally ends the agony. Think. Year after year hunger devours Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Orissa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and UP. This year’s “aridity map” shows “severe arid conditions” even in J&K.

Worse, monsoon rains over the country’s bread basket, Punjab and Haryana, are 51% deficient this season, not only slowing down sowing of paddy and maize but also rains shortfall has led to long hours of power outage. Resulting in the Bhakra and Pong reservoirs water levels being lesser this year with paddy planting down 30% while pulses lag by nearly 50%.

Down South, Karnataka is staring at another drought, the fourth year in a row, with the south-west monsoon playing truant again. The fear is more as   the crucial June month recorded the lowest rainfall in the last 52 years! Obversely, Mumbai, Bay of Bengal region and Andhra were inundated by floods forcing residents to wade through knee-deep water or be stuck in hour-long traffic snarls last week and the North-East had normal rains.

The big question is: Why must we always depend upon rain for food production? Especially when 4,000 billion cubic meters of rain — 75 per cent of the total rain — falls during the 70 to 90 days of monsoon? Only 1000 billion cubic meteres fall during the remaining nine months. Moreover, the rainfall varies from a low of 0.50 to 55 mm and a high of 12,000-13,000 mm.

Also, when we know that our land and water resources are stretched beyond limits due to our burgeoning population. India’s landmass of 329 million hectares accounts for only 2 per cent of the globe’s land area, while its population accounts for 16 per cent. Thus, our ancient land’s carrying capacity has been exhausted.

Equally scandalous every Government since Independence continues to depend helplessly on the weatherman’s predictions, which have almost invariably gone wrong. All are aware that the world is under the grip of the El Nino affect. Global warming has reached worrisome heights where even the glaciers of Antarctica are melting rapidly.

With weather patters changing drastically, consecutive Governments have waited for a drought to occur and then tried to minimize its impact. Questionably, why was nothing been done to stop deforestation, which has resulted in drought-prone areas retaining less and less water? What is being done to stop village tanks from being silted?

Notably, my queries to find out if we had a full-fledged rain-harvesting plan were met with stoic silence given that a large part of the problem could be solved by harnessing this technology, which could be optimally managed at the local self-government level. Unfortunately, politicians have muddied the waters leading to large areas, which once had abundant water supply, now reeling under water shortage.

This is not all. Since about 67 per cent of the population is still dependent on rain, groundwater continues to be lifted indiscriminately. Resulting in a sharp drop of 3 to 5 per cent every year in the water tables (from 20-30 ft to 300-400 ft). In some areas all the three levels of soil stand exhausted. Add to this, no plans are in the pipeline to decongest highly populated areas, which result in too many tubewells and a lowering of the groundwater table. Union Capital Delhi is the second most populated city in the world, after Tokyo.

Worse, so dependent are we on the monsoons that even irrigation has gone down the tube. Look at the figures. In 1970-71, 41 per cent of the total land was irrigated through canals, today only 14 per cent through tubewells. By 1997-98 tubewells were irrigating 34 per cent of all irrigated lands, while canals accounted for only 31 per cent. Presently, this has further declined, resulting in a major drain on ground water.

Why? Over the years there has been a sharp decline in public investment in agriculture. In 2000-01 investment was down to just over Rs.4,000 crore from about Rs.4,500 crore in 1993-94. Money, which is insufficient to even maintain the existing infrastructure, let alone expand it. Look at the absurdity. The centre earmarks thousands of crores subsidy for fertilizers, but a pittance for other basic agriculture inputs.

One of the reasons for the failure of the Government to provide any permanent solution to the problem of recurring drought is our polity’s miniscule emphasis on national priorities, refusal to take into account local realities and failure to set our agriculture agenda. Whereby, the money spent, though astronomical, has always been on the “dig and fill-up” variety type with no attempt to link grants to permanent assets creation which could take care of people during distress.

Alarmingly, there is no effective coordination between various rural development programmes. The Agriculture and Water Resources Ministries work in opposite direction. Each Minister and his babus guard their fiefdom with zealousness. Let alone coordination, even silly information is shrouded in secrecy.

What next? There are no short-cuts possible. It is high time no-nonsense Modi ensures his Administration lives up to expectations. Netas have to shed their desire to pander to vote banks and reluctance to focus on long-term rather than short-term planning, resulting in the annual scourge of drought in one part of the country or another. As the NDA puts into motion Action Ganga Cleaning, it first has to erase the ignominy of both Yamuna and Ganga holding the title of dead rivers and floating bodies. Brace for the future, when the Rain God chooses not to oblige?

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)

By Sarkaritel July 15, 2014 11:22