Are Akhilesh and Fadnavis being callous in dealing with drought?

Recent days have witnessed yet again a political circus on the issue of farmers’ problems and drought in 13 of the 29 states of India. The latest act was enacted on 7 May in New Delhi when chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss what else but, drought and the help they need from the central government.

At this point it must be mentioned that inspite of India’s “phenomenal” growth for several years and a world-class IT sector that employs only five percent of Indians, the farm sector supports directly and indirectly over 650 million people. Millions of people get short-term employment or seasonal jobs to help with ploughing, weeding, seeding, digging water channels, spraying insecticides, harvesting, loading harvest or weeds onto carts and tractors, and many more.

Representational image. AFP

Representational image. AFP

With state elections underway, and politicians in Parliament trying to fool people on the issue of drought, the remarks made by the chief ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra need special mention.

Despite the fact that chief Ministers are virtual prime ministers of their states with enormous Constitutional powers to govern, Akhilesh Yadav and Devendra Fadnavis came up with classic requests to Modi: Give us more central funds to fight drought.

PM’s pathshala on drought

After the chief ministers met the Prime Minister on Saturday and shared details about the drought relief work in their states, PM Modi posted a few tweets. It seems bizarre that at a time when drought has impacted survival of tens of thousands of people and drinking water shortage has heightened misery in scorching May, the CMs had to be educated on how to tackle drought!!

Sample this from press releases shared by Press Information Bureau on its website.
Uttar Pradesh:
> Modi emphasised on the need to use of technologies like remote sensing and satellite imaging for planning of water conservation and recharge structures.
> The need to change cropping patterns based on scientific advice, use of drip and sprinkler irrigation, and fertigation for increasing water use efficiency, community participation, especially women, for better water management, was stressed.
> He said that treated urban waste water should be used for farming in adjoining areas.
> He mentioned the need to monitor delivery of water through tankers in the affected areas, using technology such as GPS.
> The meeting also discussed how best the period before the upcoming monsoon can be utilized for water conservation and recharge efforts. This includes efforts at desilting, recharging of rivers, check dams and other water storage mechanisms.
> PM Modi said that the centre, states, local bodies, NGOs and citizens have to work together to resolve the problems posed by drought.
> Importance of increasing water use efficiency through drip and sprinkler system was stressed on. PM Modi said that drip irrigation in sugarcane increases the quality of sugar.
> He also spoke of the need to adopt a judicious mix of traditional and modern water conservation and storage mechanisms. He said that a lot can be learnt from the water management practices and measures adopted by Chhatrapati Shivaji.
> Modern solid and liquid waste management practices in urban areas, \could yield enhanced water and organic fertilizer availability in adjoining rural areas, he said.
> PM emphasized crop diversification, value-addition, and broadbasing the sources of income for farmers, by connecting dairying, fishery, poultry, bee-keeping etc. He also underlined the natural hedging from vagaries of nature because of broadbasing of income.

The discussion centred on “usage of latest technology”, “community participation” and the “need to effectively utilize period before monsoon for water recharge and conservation efforts” – the dateline for this discussion could have been 1980s or 1990s.

Do these CMs need special classes to learn how to tackle drought? Fadnavis claimed that his government would focus more on drip irrigation. Did he have to visit Delhi to understand water conservation?

Vidarbha and World Bank

Ten years ago in 2006 when then prime minister Manmohan Singh finally visited Vidarbha amidst a similar atmosphere of drought and suicides, then agriculture minister Sharad Pawar spoke of the need to focus on better irrigation facilities and drip irrigation. Pawar later visited US and sought World Bank assistance for improvement of irrigation facilities.

A year ago, Fadnavis visited Israel and sought the assistance of Peres Foundation for drip irrigation technology and biological pesticides for farmers of Osmanabad and Yavatmal. What happened since? What was done and what could not be done since Pawar visited World Bank in 2006?

Politicians and TV anchors have particularly poor memories when it comes to issues connected with drought. That Fadnavis could get away with such statements is as much a reflection on the media as it is on him.

Fadnavis has inherited the issue of recurring drought and farmers committing suicides in dry Vidarbha and Marathwada regions. Months after the issue was deemed as an acute one, he finally found the time to discuss it with the PM, taking time away from far more pressing issues such as efforts to bypass Supreme Court order on dance bars and beef ban.

Yadav requests water tankers

Fadnavis’ response sounds benign when compared to the complete indifference — bordering on arrogance — of Akhilesh Yadav. With one year left to go for assembly elections in the state, Yadav made preposterous statements about the Centre's role in tackling drought. Under the Constitution, this responsibility lies with the states.

On Monday morning, two days after meeting Modi, Yadav spoke at a function in Lucknow. Yadav said he was awaiting central government help to buy water tankers. “Paani ke mudde par, kendra ki shuruat ka intezar (We are waiting for the Centre to begin doing its part on the issue of water). Isn’t this another shocking instance of callousness?

Bundelkhand, a particularly poor and backward region in UP, has faced drought for last five years. Vidarbha region in Maharashtra has been synonymous with rural distress and farmers’ suicides for years. In January 2016, reports on drought in many villages of Maharashtra became public knowledge.

According to the Union Rural Development Ministry, many of 13 drought-affected states did not use central funds for drinking water schemes. Around 1,500 crore lie unspent with the Central government.

While the states are happily passing on the responsibility of handling drought to the Centre, the Modi government had to face Supreme Court criticism on a petition against IPL matches in Maharashtra.

In the next few weeks, if monsoon comes on time as predicted, drought and drought relief will again become non-issues. Poor distraught rural communities will again be left to the mercy of their destiny. Politicians will be back in business sniping at each other on issues that do not impact a majority of the people. Until the next drought-like conditions when discussions will restart on how to tackle drought.

Updated Date: May 09, 2016 23:06 PM

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