The Government Can Handle Drought A Lot Better. Here's How

India is a country of extreme weather, where droughts and floods can occur simultaneously in different regions. Having said so, the intensity of damage caused by them can be massively avoided with appropriate disaster response mechanisms from the government. In fact, the responsibility of safeguarding the lives and livelihoods of its citizens against any disaster (natural or human-made) is the basic raison d'être of a State.

Unlike floods and earthquakes, droughts and famines are disasters where the State cannot easily shift the blame or dismiss accusations of mishandling, owing to their prolonged duration and multi-regional impact. Hence any government will do its best to mitigate droughts, especially the one brought to power despite its inglorious "anti-farmer" tag.

Though the NDA's revamp of the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Programme (AIBP) and its amalgamation with various other irrigation-specific schemes to form an integrated Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana (PMKSY) is a positive step in the realizing of "Har Khet Ko Pani" (Water To Every Field), how effective do they prove in reducing the impact of droughts and restoring of the lost livelihoods of the people affected by them? How can the disastrous consequences of droughts be reduced in the future?

The data released by the Centre reveals that around 33 crore people are victimized by drought. Though there have been a few apprehensions around the inclusion or exclusion of a few states, the intensity is evident. Subsequently, the Central government has released considerable funds towards relief activities to the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. However, does the issue get solved there? Certainly not! A disaster like drought is bound to re-emerge if the situation is not handled appropriately.

What is crucial is a structured multi-pronged approach towards preventing drought situations before the onset of the short-lived solace of the upcoming monsoon, which till date has been a reason for the loss of vigour in the disaster assuagement process.

One primary consequence of a drought is the lack of availability of water for agriculture. The rainfall in the country is not uniform. The same holds true for groundwater availability, and the nature of soil. This warrants cropping to be area specific, thus resulting in produce marked by multitude. On the flipside, food security has been given precedence over perpetuity and the post green revolution phase has been marred by homogenization in terms of cultivation of cereals and short-sighted exploitation of natural resources.

There are a number of schemes that have been envisioned or implemented by the government. At this juncture, the efficacy would be improved if the schemes are integrated--such as, say, MGNREGA and Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana (SAGY). Additional manpower to help the district authority handle the development administration would make the process a lot more effective.

This would reduce the dependency of farmers on agriculture, which would help farming as an occupation get consolidated on one hand and lighten the burden on cities by lowering migration rates. Above all, a rural area would be a hub of multifarious occupations like farm-tool manufacturing, handlooms, handicrafts, beekeeping, horticulture etc, thereby promoting development beyond growth.

News reports suggest that the opposition is set to raise the drought issue in Parliament. At this juncture, it is imperative that the discourse stays need-centred as against one with shallow political agendas. Among other things, structural reforms in the agricultural sector, enabling enhanced utilization of irrigation infrastructure and its expansion, bolstering agricultural research in the existing institutions, incentivizing alternative means of livelihood, and rationing of subsidies are the means to the creation of self-sustaining economic units in rural India.

Owing to a strong majority in Parliament, an absence of coalition pressures and a charismatic figure at the helm, the responsibility of bringing in a plausible change fairly and squarely lies on the government of the day.

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