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What does the ongoing drought teach us

analysis Updated: May 25, 2016 18:19 IST
Drought

Six hundred million of India’s 1.2 billion depend on agriculture and related means for livelihood. The sector was already distraught, with 41 farmers reportedly committing suicide daily on an average since 1995. Migration of the socio-economically deprived, from the largely-agrarian rural India to urban locations for survival had touched 15 million eight years ago. (AP)

With progressively increasing severity of rising temperatures and rain deficits over two consecutive years – 2014 and 2015, the Great Indian Drought was always coming. The India Meteorological Department, ministry of home affairs, the ministry of water resources, the Ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare office, and the National Disaster Management Authority knew it.

The question is, what did we do with this knowledge?

Six hundred million of India’s 1.2 billion depend on agriculture and related means for livelihood. The sector was already distraught, with 41 farmers reportedly committing suicide daily on an average since 1995. Migration of the socio-economically deprived, from the largely-agrarian rural India to urban locations for survival had touched 15 million eight years ago.

The drought had magnified these issues explicitly, with media reports suggesting more than Rs 14 crore has been pending in wages of labourers under MNREGA, in many villages of Bundelkhand – prompting mass exodus to cities like Delhi.

Read: Prostitution to child marriage: India’s drought hurts women, Dalits more

In December 2015, the Supreme Court had issued notice to the Centre and 11 states, seeking their response on the steps initiated to provide relief to the people affected by drought. In March 2016, when finance minister Arun Jaitley presented the Budget, seven states had been declared drought-hit.

Fully aware of the impending crisis, the government presented a budget that marginally increased the share of the ministry of agriculture by just 0.24% from last year. Shockingly, for a country with above 60% of its people reliant on agriculture, the investment in agriculture – in terms of the budget allocation of the ministry of agriculture – has not crossed more than 0.5% of the GDP in the last five years.

Read: In times of drought: Overuse of water behind India’s dry days

“Declaring drought was never the mandate of the IMD. It is the job of the state government. Our task is to say whether the rainfall is normal or deficient. Interpretation is the job of the state government,” IMD director Laxman Singh Rathore said.

Read: Shifting IPL matches or good rains won’t end our water woes. Here’s why

Yes, the state governments interpreted it, but the question was whether they had enough money to spend on their interpretations. With multiple loopholes plaguing the length of money-flow pyramid, how could one have ensured that the money reached the struggling millions engaged in a range of agricultural and allied activities?

If an institution could stand up and deliver a solution to this, it was the Niti Aayog – which states its first function is “to evolve a shared vision of national development priorities sectors and strategies with the active involvement of States in the light of national objectives.”

Perhaps it might be a profitable exercise to dwell on the question of what the ‘national development priorities’ actually are.

“Agricultural drought is probably the most socially constructed of all disaster risks,” says the United Nations. With just a few weeks to go before the IMD-predicted ‘above average’ monsoon to arrive, the discussions on drought will soon be erased from the public memory.

However, the monsoon session of the Parliament could be an opportunity. Measures to ensure the implementation of Right to Food Act could be the first step. People who had migrated need not have returned after the drought – leaving the families, especially children, in makeshift living conditions and at risk of abuse and deprivation.

To ensure that the affected children have three square meals a day, special budgetary allocations for Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), Mid Day Meal (MDM) and PDS need to be considered.

The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MNREGS) is yet to realise its potential, both in terms of ensuring the guaranteed wages reaching the rural poor, and in terms of creating more water storage structures.

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India’s recommendation to create separate Disaster Mitigation Funds at national, state and district levels should also be considered.

Kunal Shah is Director (Disaster Management) with World Vision India

The views of the author are personal