Drought and Floods in India
Drought and floods play havoc with Indian agriculture. In India, agriculture has always been dependent on nature. It still remains highly sensitive to the vagaries of weather. Droughts in various parts of the country in recent years have sufficiently proved that if rain Gods decides to play truant with India, then the farmers can do nothing but helplessly watch their crops wither away. Although we no longer experience the kind of devastating famines which occurred during the British Raj – thanks to the agricultural productivity, sustained economic growth and food security system developed in the country – the agricultural output still remains at the mercy of natural forces.
The last few years have been very unkind to the farmers. While there is a serious drought in one part of the country, the other parts suffer untold misery due to abnormal rainfall resulting in floods. A run of four poor monsoons, freaky weather conditions culminated in one of the worst droughts in 1987 when out of 35 meteorological sub-divisions in the country 21 had deficient rainfall. It caused substantial crop damage and scarcity of drinking water. People in the rural areas, particularly the small farmers, had to face hardships.
In a country where 80% of its people live in rural areas and depends on agriculture for their sustenance, one can imagine how such natural calamities play havoc with their lives. They are driven to starvation as they have nothing to fall back on. Most resign themselves to their fate. Some decide to move to urban areas to look for work to feed their families. While the shock of monsoon failure is most severely felt by the people in the rural areas where wide spread crop losses cause distress and misery, abnormal rainfall in some years also causes immense damage to human life, property and crops through floods.
The sudden strain which is imposed on the economy by such massive drought causes a severe setback to the momentum of development. The decline in the water levels in important reservoirs, shortage of power supply for tube-well irrigation further put strain on agricultural production. Although the immediate impact of drought is invariably on agriculture and the rural people, the industrial sector is not immune to it. A poor monsoon leads to fall in agriculture production thus causing a shortage of raw materials specially for the agro-based industries; reduction in rural demand for industrial goods due to fall in income; increase in expenditure on food due to shortage and rise in prices thereby forcing the consumers to reduce spending on even articles of every day requirement. Since a large amount of money has to be diverted towards relief measures for drought victims, it leads to decline in investment in public sector and other development projects. It is altogether another matter that money allocated for relief measures hardly ever reaches the people it is meant for.
In the past, major droughts have been followed by recession in the industry. Industries like fertilizers, pesticides, farm machinery play a very significant role in modernizing agriculture. But fluctuations in agricultural production due to drought or floods adversely affect the demand for the goods produced by these units. However, over the years there has been a decline in the share of agriculture in the national income. Consequently there has been a decline in the adverse effect of fall in agricultural income on industrial sector. Although the adverse impact of drought on industrial production cannot be avoided altogether, the economy has become resilient enough to bear the setbacks like this.
Nevertheless, the plight of the common man really becomes pathetic due to increase in prices as a result of shortage in the supply of food and non-food commodities. Lower middle class, salaried class and the unskilled workers are worst affected. Small businessmen do not let this opportunity go to create artificial shortages and sell the articles in the black market. The harassed consumer is left with no choice but to pay the price. Since the income of the people does not increase in proportion to the rise in inflationary trends, there is a fall in the savings, as people have to spend more to procure articles of daily necessity. Those employed in government and semi-government jobs get some relief in the form of dearness allowance, but the self employed and the workers in the private sector do not get such financial relief to offset the increase in prices.
The plight of the rural people, more particularly of the small and marginal farmers is really pitiable. Drought causes severe dislocation of everyday life. Whatever meager resources they have are soon exhausted on meeting daily expenses. In States such as Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra, where rains failed successively for four years, not only did the agricultural production completely collapse, but the declining water table led to an acute shortage of drinking water as well. Hence, people had to face extremely difficult living conditions. Cattle started dying due to lack of fodder and water. In some areas, one even heard of people adopting extreme measures like selling their children or committing suicide.
The Government has adopted a number of measures to create additional avenues of employment and income, assure adequate supplies of essential commodities and drinking water, provide additional power to areas irrigated by tube-wells and pump-sets to boost rabi production, supply fodder for the cattle. Financial assistance is also extended by the banks on priority basis to persons affected by droughts to enable them to undertake a second sowing, raise an alternative short duration crop or grow much needed fodder for the cattle. Any programs are started to provide employment to the drought affected people. Essential commodities like food-grains, edible oils, controlled cloth, etc. are made available through public distribution system. Efforts are made to keep the prices of essential commodities under control.
In 1973, Drought Prone Area Programme was started as a long term measure for restoration of ecological balance and optimum utilization of land, water, live-stock and human resources and to mitigate effects of drought. It is being implemented in 615 blocks in 91 districts of 13 states from 1985-86 covering about 5.36 lakhs sq. km area. It covered about 7 to 7.5 crores people.
Almost 1/8th of India’s total area has been declared as flood prone. Three-phased – immediate, short-term and long–term – flood control programme was launched in 1954. Since then about Rs. 1,763 crores have been spent on flood control till the end of Sixth Plan. An outlay of Rs. 947 crores was approved for the Seventh Plan for this purpose. The flood control measures taken include construction of new embankments, drainage channels, town protection works and raising the level of low lying villages. In addition anti-sea erosion measures to protect the coastline have also been taken up. Government has also set up a flood forecasting organization to issue advance warnings about impending floods so as to alert rescue and relief agencies. In 1989, damage suffered on account of floods was about Rs. 2,380 crores.
However what is needed is a long term strategy to free agriculture from the uncertainties of weather. Droughts and floods will continue to cause agony and hardship to people. Even after 40 years of planned development, about 70% of total cropped area is still dependent on rainfall. To overcome this dependency, methods should be adopted for better water management. Research should be conducted on improving methods and techniques for the development of rain fed and dry land agriculture. Unless all these plans and programs are implemented in earnest, the droughts and floods will continue to play havoc with the life of the people.
– Bipasha Mukherjee.