A critical story lurking behind the hullabaloo of electioneering is that around 45 per cent of India’s land area is in the throes of a drought that may well devastate the economy in the months to follow, even as headlines report that the bulls are doing the “rain dance”, following predictions of near normal monsoons.
Forecasts have been guilty of overestimating rainfall for at least five years in a row, including 2018 and what obtains across large tracts of India is the horrifying spectacle of cracked up soil and parched people quitting their homes. No state has, perhaps, been more guilty of failing to address the drought than Gujarat, despite claims of 11per cent growth in the agriculture sector in 2018, which is rebutted by the Comptroller and Auditor General placing the figure at 3.6 per cent, according to Reuters.
Kutch is amongst the worst affected and the India Meteorological Department (IMD) admits that abnormal climate conditions are continuing into 2019. Matters are worsened by much of the available water being earmarked for domestic and industrial use. Elsewhere, the Kolar belt, barely 70 kms from Bengaluru, is just as petrified by consecutive droughts, with 2019 revealing its ugly fangs; its mango orchard owners, for instance, quitting their homesteads to work as taxi drivers and construction workers in the state capital.
Marathwada’s 28,523 perennially drought-affected villages pray desperately that the rains will be kinder this year; Kerala’s Groundwater Department serves notice about the state heading into a severe drought with groundwater levels in most parts declining from 75 cm to 2 metres; and Tamil Nadu, already a victim of the parsimonious north-east monsoon, declaring 24 entire districts drought hit along with 38 blocks in seven districts.
The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Gandhinagar (with competencies in real-time drought prediction) analysis ~ that of the nearly 50 per cent of India currently facing drought, at least 16 per cent is in the “exceptional” or “extreme” category ~ merits serious attention from the entire country and certainly from the dancing bulls because this also spells havoc for the bourses.
One is yet to assess the unknowns that climate change will unleash and though IIT is not predicting a famine, it is clearly spelling ruin for India’s farmers and the indigent, from the north-east to parts of eastern India to large tracts of western, central and southern India. Regrettably, India will not pursue its agenda to recharge and manage its groundwater with the same vim and vigour that it takes to fake news and divisive politics.
It undertakes little by way of altering cropping patterns to suit soil and climate conditions in rural India or for spreading water consciousness in urban homes. The worst response to the looming drought is that it will be dealt with ~ or brushed under the carpet ~ when it is upon the country with its full ramifications. Meanwhile, there is dancing on the streets ~ Dalal, Lyons, and others ~ and an election to be won for business as usual to follow.