New Delhi, May 1, 2016: Farmers from 12 states struggling with severe drought conditions came together in the national capital today to participate in a day-long consultation on the crisis which is devastating rural India. The consultation was jointly organised by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Swaraj Abhiyan, under the banner of Jai Kisan Andolan, a nation-wide public movement for farmers’ rights.
The consultations ended with a panel discussion involving Anupam Mishra (Gandhi Peace Foundation), Devinder Sharma (Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security), P Sainath (senior journalist), Sunita Narain (Centre for Science and Environment and Yogendra Yadav (Jai Kisan Andolan-Swaraj Abhiyan).
Speaking on the occasion, Narain said: “Drought in the 1990s was essentially the drought of a poor India. This 2016 drought is of richer and more water-guzzling India. This classless drought makes for a crisis that is more severe and calls for solutions that are more complex. The severity and intensity of drought is not about lack of rainfall; it is about the lack of planning and foresight, and criminal neglect. Drought is human-made.”
In his address, Yogendra Yadav, national convenor, Swaraj Abhiyan, evoked the real picture of drought through the pages of a letter from a Marathwada marginal farmer. This letter had formed the basis of Yadav’s PIL (public interest litigation) on drought, and has helped draw the Supreme Court’s attention to crisis.
On this occasion, Down To Earth, the science and environment fortnightly which is completing its 25 years of existence, released a special edition with an in-depth coverage of drought in India. Quoting official sources, the magazine points out that the drought-prone area of the country has increased by 57 per cent since 1997. One-third of India’s districts have faced more than four droughts over the past decade, and 50 million people are affected by drought every year.
Writing in the magazine, its managing editor Richard Mahapatra says: “Drought and food security are critically linked. Drought-prone districts account for 42 per cent of the country’s cultivable land. For maintaining food security, even at the current nutritional levels, an additional 100 million tonnes (MT) of foodgrains need to be produced by 2020. According to estimates, 40 per cent of this additional supply has to come from these districts.”
He adds: “So, it is not about whether our drought relief operations are effective. Rather, India can’t afford to have droughts any more. A long-term strategy to make India drought-free is the biggest message of the 2016 crisis.”
Narain points out: “Twenty-five years back, DTE founder editor Anil Agarwal had come up with an in-depth story on drought: Drought is here to stay in India, the story said. And after 25 years, we are again publishing and discussing this subject in the same manner.”
Narain put forth a three-pronged action plan to combat the enduring crisis: augment water resources, revise and update the drought code, and secure water for all times. She said that this would mean building more water harvesting structures based on water planning and not just employment (as under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme); shutting off all non-essential water use, from watering lawns to hosing down cars; and benchmarking water use and setting targets for reduced consumption year on year.
Chatar Singh Jam, a farmer from Jaisalmer, already follows some of these dictums. This arid region has never had an incident of farmer suicide, because the farmers there believe in and follow traditional water management practices.