Published On : Thu, Apr 7th, 2016

How can we help with drought relief in our state?

drought
Nagpur:
Not many living in cities like Mumbai, Pune, or even Nagpur, are aware that this summer of 2016 is going to be the worst ever for many rural families of Vidarbha and Marathwada due to the horrible drought that has struck repeatedly many districts of these areas.

Forget, water for irrigation, or drinking water and fodder for cattle, there isn’t enough drinking water for human beings! Many areas are getting water supply as infrequently as once in 3 weeks!

How bad is the drought? (Source – Pari)

Farmers1
Mumbai
: Nearly 90 lakh farmers in Maharashtra have been impacted by the drought that has devastated the kharif crop, official data shows. The figure is almost on a par with the population of Sweden.

Maharashtra is already known for its farm crisis and reports the highest number of farmer’s suicides in the country. The drought — brought on by a delayed and inadequate monsoon — is set to deepen the distress for its cultivators.

It comes close on the heels of the crop distress wreaked by the hailstorms last year which hit cultivators hard.

Data with the agriculture department shows that two-thirds of the state’s 1.37 crore farmers have been affected by the drought which has impacted mainly the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions. These areas have historically been the most deprived in the state.

Two weeks ago, the state government officially declared that 60% of its villages were facing a “drought-like condition”. This means that they reported a crop yield which was less than 50% of the standard yield in the area. In absolute figures, 23,811 of the state’s 39,453 villages come in this category. This will result in a drastic fall in the state’s agricultural output for the year, officials said.

“It is a very difficult situation. Farmers in the state are facing severe agrarian distress,” said state relief and rehabilitation secretary K H Govinda Raj. The state government has released relief worth Rs 2,000 crore so far, he added. The state had asked the Central government for aid worth Rs 4,800 crore but that’s yet to come in.

Vidarbha-based farmer activist Vijay Jawandia pointed out that this is the fourth drought in the state since 2008. “The impact on farmers is only getting worse. Earlier farmers used to suffer because of low yields but at least they got a decent price for their produce. Now they have poor yield and very low prices for their crop,” he said.

In his estimation, the cotton and soyabean crop in the state could see a dramatic drop in yield. “The total cotton production in Maharashtra could drop by 1.5 crore quintals this year. The soyabean yield was 4 quintals per acre. This year it could be just half of that,” he said.

How has the government reacted?

Totally negatively! Especially the Central government of Modi.

Read this to judge for yourself –

Farmers
Mumbai
: Maharashtra seems to be no country for old people. Not if they are destitute, over 65 and hungry. Not a speck of the 225 metric tonnes of grain the aged in the state are due to get every month under a food scheme for the poor can be found in Maharashtra. With the Centre not releasing the quota since April 2014, the scheme has come to a complete standstill in the state for the last 10 months.

The Annapurna Yojana, which has been operating nationwide since 2001, has roughly 78,400 beneficiaries in Maharashtra. Under the scheme, the destitute population—aged 65 and above—is eligible for 10 kg of free wheat and rice each month. The grains are provided by the Centre.

The state was receiving roughly 225 metric tonnes of wheat and rice from the Centre each month. However, since April 2014, the Centre’s allocation abruptly halted and has still not resumed figures with the state food and civil supplies department show.

State government officials say the initial delay was caused by attempts to streamline the scheme. “The Centre used to release grains based on our demand over a six-month period. But since March 2014, states were asked to submit a utilization certificate on the basis of which the quota would be released,” said an official who did not want to be named.

The state government sent across its “utilization certificate” with its demand for grains in March 2014. However, no supply arrived and no explanation seems to be forthcoming. Since then, the state has sent three reminders: in November and December 2014 as well as January this year. But it is still waiting for the grains to arrive.

Groups agitating for food rights feel the state government should fill in for the delay. “This is a very vulnerable population. If the Centre’s quota has not come, what is the state government doing?” asks Kiran Moghe of the Janwadi Mahila Sanghatna.

State food and civil supplies secretary Deepak Kapoor did not comment on the delay. Food and civil supplies minister Girish Bapat, who has recently assumed charge, said he would make enquiries about the scheme’s status.

So what can we city people do about this sad state of affairs?

  • First of all – be more aware! Instead of being side tracked by non issues such as who will say ‘Bharat Maata ki Jai’ and who won’t, understand and care for how Bharat Mata’s many children are suffering due to natural calamities and official apathy. Discuss this at every forum, debate how we can offer succor.
  • Do not waste water – do not condone others wasting it! Why did it take a PIL to force IPL matches out of the state? Are we aware that at every pitch the match is held 60,000 litres of water is required daily to wet the pitch? Is our love of entertainment and love of cricket greater than our fellow citizens’ need for drinking water? Imagine all the money, the petrol and the time we would have wasted collectively to watch these frivolorous matches? Divert that money to fight drought instead. Donate your time and money and give to the NGO of your choice – there are many pitching in where governments have failed.
  • Protest the cutting of trees – Weather change and failed monsoons are becoming a regular feature because of cutting of tree cover and denuding of our forests. Do we want wider highways and more flyovers at the cost of cutting thousands of trees? Why just trees in the forests, protect every tree in your neighbourhood vigilantly too. If you find someone cutting down a tree, complain. Make noise, call the police!
  • Show you care by cutting out on ostentatious celebrations – Farmer suicides have gone up by 40% and yet in cities we continue to have lavish weddings, engagements, even birthday parties. If we cannot follow austerity now, when will we? Every expensive wedding we are invited to, we give at least a minimum of Rs. 500/ as gift in an envelope…sometime as much as thousands too! This year, can we not give this money to drought relief?
  • Make farmer issues our own. A farmer’s business is not to earn profits for himself and give his family a luxurious life. It is to feed us and clothe us! Imagine the fate of the country if all the farmers collectively decide to go on strike FOR JUST ONE KHARIF SEASON? We will have unbelievable food scarcity – there will be food riots and prices of whatever is available will touch the sky. So why don’t we pressurize our state governments and our Central to guarantee remunerative prices for farm produce? If they don’t get paid enough to cover their expenses even during droughts, why should they care to farm anymore?

Like farmers leader Sharad Joshi used to say – we live in two countries. The India, where urban people live and the Bharat, where rural people live.

Let us break this divide and show we are one… this summer, take your kids and your family on a ‘summer break’ to some village instead of Dubai or Singapore!


Sunita Mudaliar
(Associate Editor)