More than a dozen states are suffering from drought including Gujarat. What one hears is that since good rains are expected, it is really a short term miserly and after a few weeks everything will be ok. Will it? What will happen to the people whose savings of last five or more years have been liquidated because of lack of water, livelihood and other sources of income? Will that be not a greater tragedy when it will rain but millions of people will not have money to buy seeds, hire bullock or tractor and sow crop in time? What is our readiness for letting farmers get back in production cycle after repeated droughts in some states? If some farmers will grow sugarcane even in drought prone regions as they have been doing in all these years, will food crops get post rain irrigation if needed? Most cooperative societies are in difficult situation, commercial banks are already reeling under stress due to various cleaning up operation undertaken after RBI intervention. Private moneylenders have triggered thousands of suicides in different states. What should be the strategy to benefit if good rains come, which is likely and how to alleviate stress for at least month a half more? Already consumption of pulses has been minimal among poor given more than thirty per cent price hike.
The livestock rearers are one of the worst sufferers apart from labourers. The value of the livestock goes down and in the post rain season, because of excessive eating of green grass, they suffer from worms and flatulence. The craftsmen and women also are forced to sell their creations at throwaway prices. The rescheduling and rehabilitation finance helps those supported by the banks but as we know, a very large segment is still out of formal credit system. It is not difficult for policy makers to monitor the distress. There are many indicators, which can be used to look at the distress induced migration, indebtedness, asset disposal often at distress rates, reduced consumption, malnutrition, etc. Remedial measures have to be taken by an inter-ministerial group at the centre and inter-departmental group at the state level. Such groups are yet to be created in most of the drought affected states. It is true that India has succeeded in avoiding a large scale distress but slow death is even more painful. The average days of employment in many parts of the country have not gone up. In whichever taluka the market wage rate are lower than the minimum wage rate, there is an obvious need for labour market intervention. In fact, enhanced budget allocation for minor irrigation could have been used for a massive employment programme for watershed management, farm ponds, drainage and diversion channels, etc. The feed and fodder scarcity might worsen in the coming month and needs decentralized attention.
If distribution of seeds, food grains, feed and fodder in the coming few months is not tracked at village and block level, millions of farmers will be forced to go to money lenders. And then, the chain of suicides will start again at the time of next drought. We must avoid it at all costs. The small machinery including manual seeder, see a new design by Bharatbhai Agrawat of Keshod, Junagadh needs to be widely distributed. The availability of bullocks has already gone down. Small and marginal farmers wlll need such devices in the coming few months.
The government should set up a mechanism in the mission mode to avoid distress even in the post rain season at all costs. Water conservation, distribution and economical consumption has to get priority. There is a looming long-term crisis on this front. Our ground water extraction even in the green revolution regions is extremely non-sustainable. The alternate row irrigation experimented by Harbhajan Singh of Hisar has not diffused. By now all the non-monetary technologies should have been made available through phone, radio and television to every village. Honey Bee Network has shared thousands of such practices with Ministry of Agriculture at no cost or obligation to them. Without active public policy support, these frugal solutions will not easily reach the masses. I hope there will be much more dynamism to deal with drought and post rain opportunities.