No quantum of disaster funds can ease water crisis in south India
For the last three weeks, Jantar Mantar in central Delhi has been home to a demonstration that has been using “innovative” methods --- in desperation, one may add --- to grab the attention of the central government. Around 80 farmers from Tamil Nadu posed with skulls, rats and dead snakes to impress upon the Centre their plight due to the severe drought in their state.. They managed to grab media attraction but behind the spectacle is a warning, which resonates beyond the state: The deepening water crisis in south India. The farmers were demanding that their loans from nationalised banks be waived, fair and just prices be set for their produce and to come up with realistic solutions to the water scarcity in the state. The farmers claimed that their loans from cooperative banks were written off, under Jayalalithaa’s directives. However, loans from nationalised banks require the Central government’s go-ahead.
The farmers have been reeling under the influence of what has been reportedly called the worst drought faced by the state in 140 years and the cyclone Vardah that hit the state in December last year. All the 32 districts of Tamil Nadu have been declared drought-affected. Former Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam on January 3 gave an insight into the gravity of the situation. If the average rainfall that the State receives from the north-east monsoon from October to December is around 440 millimetres (44 centimetres), it received only 16.83 cm in 2016. Karnataka is in the same boat as Tamil Nadu. Karnataka is facing its second consecutive drought year as it has had over 50% deficient rainfall this year. The state has also been directed to release Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu despite an acute drinking water shortage that is expected to only get worse in the coming months. With both the southwest and northeast monsoons not making an appearance except for a few showers, Kerala too is facing its worst drought in 115 years. Throughout the state, the groundwater situation is also getting dire.
Last week, the Centre released Rs 1,712.10 crore and Rs1,235.52 crore for drought-hit Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, respectively, from the National Disaster Response Fund. While emergency funds can ease the situation a bit, they are at best cosmetic. Only a long-term water-management policy can end the woes of farmers once and for all.