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Opinion

Strategy for dealing with drought
P R Dubashi

AFTER twelve successive good seasons, several parts of the country have come in the grip of a severe drought. According to reports 23,000 villages in 26 districts affecting 2.6 crores in Rajasthan , 17,000 villages in 18 districts affecting three crore people in Andhra Pradesh, 8,000 villages in 17 districts affecting 2.5 crore people in Gujarat and 3,200 villages in seven districts in Madhya Pradesh have been affected by drought. Other states like Orissa and Maharashtra have also come under stress.
Apparently the authorities were taken by surprise and were caught napping. Fortunately, there is no shortage of food grains. The godowns of the Food Corporation of India are overflowing. Wheat stocks are of the order of 12.8 million tonnes and rice stocks of the order of 16 million tonnes much more than the stipulated norm.
Indeed the drought provides an opportunity to the corporation to relieve itself of embarrassingly large stocks which cost great deal to store. However, there are complaints from the field that wages are not paid regularly on works and families in drought affected areas are starving. Drinking water is rushed through railway tankers but contaminated water has caused illness. Obviously, drought management leaves much to be desired and needs to be tightened up.
Is the state of unpreparedness of the administration justified? The Indian Meteorological Department has claimed that it had predicted the drought nearly six months ago. Drought is not a sudden occurrence. Alert administration is expected to take proper action at the earliest stages of drought.
This was the lesson that we ought to have learnt from the Bihar drought of 1964-66, the Maharashtra drought of 1972-73 and the 1987 drought which was described as the worst in the century. After the experience of each of these three droughts, it was stated that the crisis management approach was not the right approach.
After 1987 drought, I studied the subject of drought in some depth and prepared a paper entitled ``Drought and development’’ which was published in the Economic and Political Weekly in which I pointed out that droughts have occurred in India from times immemorial and are a part of climatology of India.
For seven good seasons there are two or three bad seasons. Therefore droughts are bound to recur. I specifically pointed out that historical evidence shows that droughts have occurred in India towards the middle and end of each century and in the year 2000 AD the problem of drought will haunt us.
The policy makers did not take notice of this prediction made nearly a decade ago. They are now suggesting that a group of scientists should be constituted to forecast weather conditions at least fifteen to twenty years in advance so that the government could have an action plan ready to combat such a crisis.
This is not correct thinking. An action plan does not have to await specific prediction. The drought management strategy should not be reactive only. It has to be proactive and indeed should be an integral part of development planning in our country. Such a proactive strategy should be based on a long term policy aiming at sustainable development.
The elements of such a proactive plan for dealing with drought should include programmes for the prevention of ground water depletion and its replenishment, watershed development through micro planning, prevention of indiscriminate destruction of forests and their restoration through replanting and social forestry, changes in cropping pattern from more water intensive to less water intensive crops through research, extension and price incentives for the development of drought resistant varieties, dispersed production, procurement and stocking of food grains, an efficient and targeted public distribution system, improvement and protection of grazing lands, reduction of cattle population, access to tribals and poor people to minor forest products, programmes of public health and nutrition, and reduction of insecurity through economic diversification. Such a strategy could break the chain of cumulative causation which is characteristic of a drought.


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