Vagaries Of Monsoon Triggers Drought-Like Situation
India is currently facing a severe drought-like situation with overall Monsoon deficiency of 23 per cent so far. The situation has become complicated in recent days for people in general and farmers in particular due to inadequate response from the Centre.
As per the Meteorological Department, the rain deficiency in the Northwest region is nearly 40 per cent, in west and central region it is 23 per cent and in South it is pegged close to 22 per cent. These weak Monsoon data patterns did not emerge overnight but the government ignored the indications that there could be a drought this year.
Now the government has suddenly woken up from its deep slumber and directed all departments and ministries to coordinate with states to meet any eventuality by monitoring the Monsoon situation on a weekly basis. Even after these pronouncements no follow-up action has been taken. Implementation of drought relief measures has taken a hit due to this internal strife for power among coalition partners.
The BJP had forewarned the government back in May this year during its National Executive meet in Mumbai that if drought relief measures were not undertaken within time then the situation could turn from bad to worse. The government remained convinced that it would be easy to replicate the 257 million tonne food grain production recorded in 2011-12.
Sowing of kharif crops like paddy, pulses and coarse grains like millet, jowar and ragi is short by millions of hectares compared to normal and this is unlikely to be made up. The sowing season has been adversely impacted and even if the Monsoon picks up in days to come, the damage is already done. The government’s hope that the deficit in rice can be addressed later is completely misplaced.
To save paddy crop from further rainfall deficiency in drought-affected areas the government should ensure free power supply to paddy farmers. This step could help the paddy farmers if the Monsoon intensifies later.
Situation in drought-affected rural areas is quite grim as the long dry spell has rendered large number of small and marginal farmers jobless. These farmers and other farm workers dependent on agriculture are forced to migrate to urban areas in search of employment opportunities.
Effective steps should be taken to help the farmers during natural calamities as they are the most vulnerable section in these tough times. India’s first Prime Minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru had said, “Everything else can wait but not agriculture.” The UPA government should come up with a permanent solution to the problems faced by farmers during natural calamities.
If the government had any mechanism to fix a minimum income of a farmer then the risk management would have been much easier. When the NDA government was in power the Farm Income Insurance Guarantee scheme was launched but it was withdrawn by the UPA regime. The Farm Income Insurance Scheme gives guarantee of income to farmers. This scheme calculates per hectare average minimum income of farmers before sowing and based on these calculations the price and produce is insured. It is high time the government introduced Farm Income Insurance Scheme in the country and protect them from the vagaries of weather.
After the introduction of Nutrient Based Subsidy (NBS) regime in April 2010 the prices of fertilizers have spiralled manifold. There has been nearly 100 to 300 per cent jump in the prices of NPK fertilizers and other nutrients since then. In the name of fiscal prudence the farmers’ interest has been sacrificed. The BJP demands immediate rollback of the increased prices of fertilizers in the country.
The BJP urges the government to waive off the interest payable on farm loans for this year and reschedule the loans in long term make sure that farm loans should be given at zero per cent in near future as done by some of our state governments. The farmers living in drought-affected areas should also be given input subsidy. Land revenue and takavi should be waived off for this season. The traditional water management system should be revived.
Existing surplus food grains stock in the country which the government is finding difficult to store in warehouses should be distributed free of cost to poor and needy living in drought-affected areas. This should be done through the PDS (Public Distribution System).
A separate centralised monitoring cell should be constituted to constantly monitor the rainfall situation and the progress of the kharif season on a daily basis. This monitoring cell should also be entrusted with the task of operationalising contingency plans to distribute seeds, augment fodder and power supply and deal with drinking water shortages.
The drought situation is also expected to increase inflationary expectations in our economy. Inflation under the UPA government has become a structural problem with no signs of softening in near future. Unfortunately the UPA government’s response to rampant inflation has been remarkably slow and insufficient.
The BJP has decided to launch a nationwide agitation by staging demonstrations and dharnas between August 3 and 8 at each district headquarters in the country against the insensitive and complacent attitude of the UPA government towards drought relief and the continuation of an anti-farmer fertilizer policy. These demonstrations will be followed by a massive protest at Jantar Mantar in Delhi on August 20 which will be attended by the farmers from all over the country.
By Rajnath Singh
(The author is a former Union Agriculture Minister)