Friday, 29 May 2020

Drought Of Policies

Updated: August 25, 2012 10:59 am

It is now no more a secret that many of India’s states are afflicted with a drought-like situation. The Meteorological Department finally announced last week that the monsoon would be deficient by 15 per cent. And its impact is witnessed on Kharif sowing, which at 79 lakh hectares is about 46 lakh hectares below normal. Paddy sowing is about 25 lakh hectares lower than that of last year, coarse cereals by over 26 lakh hectares, and pulses by about 15 lakh hectares. What is more, September rainfall too is predicted to be deficient, which would have its toll on the Rabi crop. So, India would be experiencing the first drought in three years as the El Nino weather pattern affects the second half of the June to September monsoon season. The last time India declared a drought was in 2009. According to the weather office, monsoon rains would be 85 per cent of the long-period average rainfall. A 50-year average rainfall of 89 centimetres is considered to be long-period average. If the rainfall records below 90 per cent of the 50-year average, it is considered to be deficient or “drought” in layman’s parlance. Agricultural sector output, which accounts for 20 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP), would be considerably lower because of the deficiency in the monsoon. However, 20 per cent suggests that its statistical impact on GDP growth may not be significant, but it has disproportionately large impact on people because nearly 50 per cent depend on the sector for their livelihood. Against this backdrop, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia said that India’s growth rate for the year ending 2013 had been lowered to six per cent because agricultural production wasn’t expected to grow at the estimated rate. But what makes the scenario even gloomier is the fact that brokerage house CLSA has cut its forecast for Indian GDP growth to 5.5 per cent for the current fiscal year ending March from its earlier projection of 6 per cent, citing no growth in agriculture and allied services due to the poor monsoon conditions. Joining the bandwagon, Citi group also lowered its India GDP forecast to 5.4 per cent from earlier 6.2 per cent, adding that the growth could go down to 4.9 per cent if the drought worsens. It envisages average inflation at 8 per cent due to pressure on food prices. Earlier, rating agency Crisil had cut India’s growth forecast to 5.5 per cent for financial year 2012-13 from 6.5 per cent, also attributing it to a weak monsoon.

Now that the monsoon deficit has been placed on record, it is time to reflect on the long-term implications of the agriculture development strategy that India is following. But it is distressing to note that in India, policymakers have prepared responses–at least in theory–for dealing with earthquakes, cyclones, tsunamis, infectious diseases like dengue fever and so on, but no one has prepared a response or even remotely imagined a scenario where the monsoon fails completely. It is remarkable that the UPA government has so thoroughly internalised the idea of ‘shining Bharat’ that scarcity of food and hunger stalking the people does not push it into crisis management mode. Agriculture may continue to be largely rain fed, but the consciousness of the ruling class in India is oblivious to the distress on ordinary people that follows from a poor monsoon. Further, the officials of the Union government frame the policies for the country while sitting in their plush air-conditioned offices, without caring for the needs and ground realities of the country. And all this results in haphazard drafting of policies, which create chaos in the country, adding to the woes of the people, as no care is being taken to safeguard their interest. The lessons learned from the past when there were problems to face the drought must serve as a guiding factor for preparedness to help the farmers overcome the vagaries of weather. As many small farmers in the country depend on rainfall during the farm operations, they have to be educated adequately on the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ during the occurrence of drought, based on value addition to weather data. Their helplessness was evident during 2009 when some farmers in drought-affected areas were not guided properly about the seed materials, sowing operations and alternate approaches. As we faced many droughts in the past, and now we are on the brink of another drought, why does the government not frame the policies of watershed management and water conservation, which is an imperative to our farming? It is an irony that in some states we are afflicted with deluge and in many other states, we face the drought! Some climate scientists have started propounding the theory of climate flips, when a system suddenly changes instead of changing slowly. They arrive at this conclusion by studying dynamical systems, a set of mathematically-described systems whose behaviour is difficult to predict. Such flips have occurred in the past and will definitely occur again, as modern ways of living accelerate our journey towards tipping points. Hence, it is high time our policymakers formulated strategies according to climate change otherwise it would be a big mistake from our generation which would lead to suffering next generations.

Deepak Kumar Rath

Deepak Kumar Rath

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