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Without rain, a bleak outlook
As drought takes a heavy toll in Rajasthan, there are measures the state government must take quickly, says Deepak Malik.
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October 2002 - As the south-west monsoon swept across India with less than its usual force, many states face a gloomy harvest and a year of food shortages and drought. Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Uttarachal in the north and Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu are facing major crises. Twelve meteorological districts in the country have been hit by poor monsoon this year. Expected to start around mid-June and continue until September, the monsoon has been intermittent, with heavy rains around the north-east resulting in floods in two States Bihar and Assam, while the north and north-west have been relatively dry causing widespread crop damage and economic loss.

Rajasthan is one of the worst affected states. Drought has loomed in all the 32 districts with a deficit rainfall of 53.4%. There are areas where people have not experienced even one proper shower during the whole monsoon period. This is the fifth continuous drought in the state. Approximately 40 million people and 50 million cattle have been affected this year alone. The water table is going down, wells and handpumps have gone dry. Livestock have started dying of hunger and thirst. People have started abandoning their cattle after praying to god for their lives. Migration to cities and other states is up. Social structures in villages have suffered. Weddings have been postponed indefinitely. There is a dreary stillness in the air.

This year's drought raises many issues which need immediate attention. Some of these are discussed below.

Drinking water

Dry ponds, wells and handpumps are making life miserable for the poor sector of society. About 30% of the handpumps have gone dry. Women have to walk long distances to fetch water. Western Rajasthan is vulnerable in terms of all the scarcities. Water rates have gone up. Tanker tractors are charging extremely high prices. One tanker tractor of 1000 liters costs from Rs.200 to 500 depending on location and distance. According to Additional Relief Secretary Mr. Karni Singh Rathore, about 26,000 villages will face problems from the drinking water crisis.

PHED has a contingency plan of Rs. 518 crore. Overall 30,000 works of renovating traditional water harvesting structures have been identified under relief works. 3400 new handpumps and 1205 tubewells will also be bored. 1500 tanker tractors are supplying water in 1100 villages. Of the western state districts, the most severely affected is Pali. Each day, two trains of water must be provided to Pali. No district is in a position to provide water properly, as everywhere the rainfall is deficit. There is simply no way that 1500 tanker tractors could quench the thirst of 40 million people and 50 million livestock.

Fodder and livestock

Most of the reports from District Collectors on the drought situation have prioritized fodder as the main concern. With nearly no agriculture, there is now a situation of fodder deficiency all over the state. Western Rajasthan districts are more affected. Because the drought is regional, neighbouring states like Punjab and Haryana, which used to supply fodder in normal years, are themselves facing similar worries this year. The scarcity in other states is not of great intensity as it is their first or second year of drought and they still have some buffer stocks of fodder, but not to supply other states. There is some fodder in Hanumangarh and Ganganagar districts, which other districts are procuring. There is a steep hike in fodder price - 40 kg now costs Rs 180 to 200- and this has led many into debt. Much of the available fodder is contaminated with high levels (upto 25%) of mud.

Due to the non-availability of water and fodder people have started abandoning their unproductive cattle, putting a mark on their foreheads in a last prayer under open skies. There are reports of animals dying of hunger and thirst. Animal carcasses can be found in the countrysides. Many people have started migrating to other states with their animals. In some instances, neighbouring states are obstructing this migration. Nearly 50% of the livestock could be lost.

The government has plans to open 3000 fodder depots. Many of them have been opened in western districts, but many have no fodder. The government has asked NGOs to open fodder depots and cattle camps but the delay of payments [and in some cases, non-payments] by the government has demotivated NGOs to open these camps.

Some suggestions from NGOs and fields are:
  • Mobile fodder depots should be opened.
  • Mobile veterinary camps must be organised.
  • Planning must include animals as well, especially camels.
  • Provision of cattle feed must be ensured.
  • Loans from banks at cheaper rates for purchase of fodder must be made available.
  • There must be a revised system for issuing fodder depots to NGOs for timely payments and proper functioning
  • Seeds that flourish from the first irrigation must be promoted and must be provided at subsidized rates

Employment

Looking around the daily wage labourers markets in the cities, one can easily find people from villages looking for somebody to provide them with work. Around the same time in past years, it has been difficult to find labourers, but now they are in huge numbers quarreling with each other to be hired. These people are migrants from other parts of Rajasthan. The labour wages have gone down sharply (Rs.40 per person per day), whereas according to Government regulations the minimum wage for a person per day is Rs.60. Nearly 10 million families in Rajasthan are affected because of drought this year. The worst affected are landless agricultural labourers, for whom relief works are the only hope.

Relief works were started from 15th August, 2002. The initial ceiling for the first quarter provided by the Rajasthan government was 500,000, but the actual employment generated was about 250,000. The wages were to be paid partially in terms of wheat and partially as cash (10 kgs. of wheat costing Rs.46 and Rs.14 as money). The wage provided to labourers per person ranged from Rs.15 to 55. Despite the regulation of the government that the minimum wage is Rs.60, no person recorded by a network of NGOs (Akal Sangharsh Samiti) has received this minimum wage. According to the government's own records the average daily wage paid in first quarter is Rs.50.31. The average was worst in Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, at Rs.32 per person per day.

In response to demands from non-BPL (Below Poverty Line) families the government has decided to include them in relief works. A new system has already been adopted in which three master rolls will be prepared in a month to cover more people. The employment ceiling will also be raised in the coming months.

Some suggestions from NGOs and fieldworkers are:
  • The government is providing employment to only one person per family in some severely affected families. This ceiling must be raised.
  • The government must respect the Minimum Wage Act and must pay the minimum wage of Rs.60 per person per day.
  • Wherever machine-assisted work can be stopped and labourers can be employed, the switch must be made.
  • As payments are delayed, labourers must be provided with some amount of wheat in advance so that they can feed their families.

Normally a dry region with much hardship related to the absence of water, Rajasthan is reeling from even worse conditions this year. Unless the government machinery can facilitate a quicker response, the economic and social damage will be severe. Already, the losses have been significant, and with little hope of further rain, a bleak year lies ahead.

Deepak Malik
October 2002

Deepak Malik works with the non-governmental organisation Health, Environment, and Development Consortium (HEDCON), working towards social reconstruction in the state of Rajasthan. To sensitize development agencies, VOs, NGOs, activists and people on the current drought situation in Rajasthan, HEDCON provides pertinent information for the media.

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