Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Jharkhand declared drought in some districts as early as last November. Gujarat, Haryana and Bihar are yet to declare drought despite rainfall deficit.
On May 7, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met three chief ministers—Akhilesh Yadav of Uttar Pradesh, Devendra Fadnavis of Maharashtra and Siddaramaiah of Karnataka. As the chief ministers briefed him about the drought prevailing in their states and demanded more funds from the Centre to tackle the crisis, Modi held out an olive branch. The Centre and the states, he said, must resolve to work together to mitigate the problem.
“He wanted us to take measures to store water during the monsoon,” said Yadav at a press meet at the Uttar Pradesh Bhavan in Delhi after the meeting. “I told Modiji, ‘There is enough water in the dams of Bundelkhand; we do not need a water train. Instead, we need tankers that can reach villages with water. We need about 10,000 water tankers to cover the entire region.’”
Uttar Pradesh has sought Rs 11,000 crore from the Centre to buy tankers to supply water to drought-affected villages. The opposition BJP and Bahujan Samaj Party criticised Yadav for declining the Centre’s offer to send water train to Bundelkhand.
Siddaramaiah sought Rs 12,274 crore and an early release of Rs 723 crore relief fund announced by the Union government to tide over crop losses during last year’s rabi season in Karnataka. “I do not think there is any politics in this [discussion on drought]. It is a good thing that the PM has taken interest,” said a visibly pleased Siddaramaiah after the meeting.
Fadnavis apprised Modi of Maharashtra’s plans to become a drought-free state and to double farm income in three years. He sought nearly Rs 33,000 crore to provide relief for 28,000 drought-affected villages in the state.
In January, the Indian Meteoro-logical Department expunged the word ‘drought’ from its vocabulary over the “prevailing confusion” about the term. IMD had several definitions of drought—meteorological, hydrological and agricultural. It was possible for a state to have a meteorological drought (90 per cent shortfall of the average monsoon rainfall), and still not suffer an agricultural drought. “Declaring a drought has never been IMD’s mandate and, in fact, not even that of the Central government. That is because drought is not a measure of [agricultural] productivity,” said Shailesh Nayak, former secretary, ministry of earth sciences, under which IMD functions.
IMD officials had believed that the change in nomenclature would not affect the way states viewed drought. But, as of now, three states (Gujarat, Haryana and Bihar) are yet to declare drought—either meteorological, hydrological or agricultural—even though they are suffering from rainfall deficit.
The Supreme Court, while hearing a public interest litigation urging the court to order states to declare drought in affected areas, sought to know the Centre’s views on its responsibility in the event of a drought. Lawyers representing the Union government reportedly told the court that only states can declare drought and that the Centre has no role in it. When the court insisted that the Centre, too, was responsible for declaring and mitigating drought, the lawyers asked the court to issue a judgment to that effect so that the Centre can act to tackle the crisis. An exasperated judge then asked whether the government counsel was implying that only states and the Supreme Court were empowered to declare drought.
The PIL has attracted interest as it is the first such case in the history of the Supreme Court that seeks to rationalise drought mitigation procedures in the country. During the course of four-month-long hearing, the court engaged with various government ministries, including agriculture, water resources, rural development, labour and employment, and finance.
In May, the Union ministry of agriculture informed Parliament that more than 34 crore people in 246 of 680 districts spanning 10 states are facing the effects of drought. Maharashtra, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Jharkhand declared drought in some districts as early as November last year, while Gujarat, Haryana and Bihar are yet to declare drought despite the prevailing water scarcity and the stress on agricultural output.
Lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who filed the PIL on behalf of the NGO Swaraj Abhiyan, demanded that the Centre release funds to states under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. “The government does lip service saying that it would provide employment for 150 days,” said Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj Abhiyan. “We found out through surveys that employment provided under the scheme in most drought-affected states is actually just about 50 days a year.”
Despite announcing the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Vikas Yojana with much fanfare, the Centre has not been able to ensure that farmers are not affected by crop loss. “Crop compensations are not rationalised and, in most areas, people receive a compensation that is far less than what they had invested in the crops,” said Arjun Tikait, a Bharatiya Kisan Sangh leader in Jhajjar, Haryana.
Last October, the Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre under Union agriculture ministry warned that moderate droughts were under way in many states. It also said that, compared to the previous year, twice the number of districts were facing mild drought. This, the centre said, was an early indication of an increased possibility of a breakout of meteorological drought in the country. But the government apparently paid no heed to the warning.
“Had the government woken up early to the signals, these [essential relief items] for drought-affected areas could have been arranged with ease and speed,” said Arpita Mukherjee, agriculture professor at the think tank Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. “But now, four precious months are gone, and we have to do whatever little we could to better the situation in the coming two to three months of the dry season.”