Facing drought


With hopes of an improvement in the monsoon having been belied, the country may be face to face with drought conditions in large areas. The meteorological department has said that the deficiencies in rainfall are unlikely to be made up in the coming days. The situation is still not desperate, but as the prime minister pointed out at the state chief secretaries’ meeting, it is serious enough to be handled as a major crisis. Paddy cultivation has not taken place in 60 lakh hectares and more than 160 districts have been declared drought-hit. The number is bound to go up. Reports of farmers’ suicides have started trickling in. The prime minister has told the states to start implementing the contingency plans to ensure the availability of foodgrains and to prevent the prices from running away. The prices of foodgrains, pulses and sugar are already at their peaks and any further increases will take them out of the reach of common people. Creation of artificial scarcities and blackmarketing will have to be dealt with strongly. The depleting stocks will need to be replenished with imports wherever necessary.

There is enough stock of foodgrains but reaching them to the needy is very important. The Public Distribution System is defective in many states. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme should be fully activated to enable the poorest sections to buy foodgrains. Making available fodder for cattle is very important because the agricultural economy in villages still depends on the health of cattle. Many areas will also face drinking water scarcity. The prime minister said that no state has yet sought additional funds to implement contingency measures and some have not utilised the available funds. There should be increased spending and efforts directed at promotion of short duration crops suited to drought conditions. Because of the variations in geographical and weather conditions and crop patterns, different states will suffer the impact of drought differently. The Centre has to calibrate its responses accordingly. Co-ordination of the efforts of the Centre and states is vital.

Since agriculture forms only a relatively low part of the GDP, the overall economic growth may not be badly affected. But there will still be some negative impact. The fall in rural incomes and demand is bound to affect some sectors of the economy. The governments’ attention should however be how to minimise the ill-effects of the unfolding situation on the lives and livelihood of common people.

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