Drought '72 left high and dry by ongoing one
Over the decades, India has overcome the problem of shortage of foodgrains during periods of drought. But the country is still afflicted by acute shortage of drinking water. India has 4 per cent of the world's water, while it accounts for 16 per cent of the world's population. Since Independence, India's population has quadrupled, while its water-generating capacity has not been able to keep up with the surge in population. A McKinsey report says that India would need to double its water-generating capacity between now and 2030 (Gardiner Harris, New York Times News Service, reproduced in the Economic Times, March 14, 2013).
There are reports that the current drought, in parts of Maharashtra, is the worst since 1972. It is forty years ago that the 1972 drought was called the ‘Mother Year of Drought'. Today, most politicians and administrators would not have had first-hand experience of the 1972 drought, and the way records are kept, it would not be possible to draw meaningful lessons from the 1972 drought. Any comparison with 1972 would, predictably, be peremptorily dismissed by the authorities as irrelevant, as such comparisons would be detrimental to the morale-building process.
Report on the 1972 Drought
Fortunately, a World Bank official, Wolf Ladejinsky, published a well-documented comprehensive report, called ‘Drought in Maharashtra (Not in a Hundred Years)', in the Economic and Political Weekly, February 17, 1973. Unfortunately, Ladejinsky passed away in 1975. The Ladejinsky Report is extremely well written and free from sensational flourish. The report is backed up with facts and figures at the grassroots level. The official view in 1972, understandably, was to underplay the crisis by calling it a "scarcity", while according to Ladejinsky "in reality, it was a disaster of unprecedented dimension." The Economic and Political Weekly would provide signal service if it were to republish the Ladejinsky Report.
Reference to a few snippets from the report would be of interest. The struggle of the Maharashtrian farmer has been the quest for water-nature has been unkind. Cattle are in jeopardy as fodder prices mount. In the badly affected areas, one half of the cattle would perish of starvation or be consumed by the slaughterhouses. Ladejinsky poignantly comments that for all the concern about equality, equality can be found only in relief projects-like the plague, it recognises neither rich nor poor, farm owner nor the landless. The months of March, April and May become increasingly difficult, as the shortage of drinking water becomes more acute. Ladejinsky stresses that the district administration did their best, but at the back of the minds of the collectors had to be how to tackle the law and order problem. If misery topped with anger joined herds, the local authorities would have to deal with something much more pregnant than a sense of unease. If there are refugees pouring into the larger towns and cities where life would be hard for them, it reflects on how much harder life would be in the rural areas. Ladejinsky is laudatory about the pioneering Employment Guarantee scheme in Maharashtra at the time of the 1972 drought and it has now been adopted for the country as a whole.
The Drought of 2013
One has belaboured on the drought of 1972 as it has many lessons for the handling of the drought of 2013. Unlike in 1972, when there was a shortage of food grains as well as drinking water, at the present time there is ample supply of food grains. But the drinking water scarcity is much worse than in 1972. While the authorities would wish to dismiss any comparisons between 2013 and 1972, it would be a serious mistake to underestimate the problem of 2013.
Anecdotal Evidence in 2013
The drought in Marathwada is of great anxiety and a little less than 4,000 villages are already facing acute water shortage. The situation in five districts-Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, Jalna, Beed and Osmanabad is so bleak that in many parts of these districts there will be no drinking water after the end of March 2013. In the dams in Marathwada, available water as on March 7, 2013, was only 7 per cent, as against 30 per cent last year. It is paradoxical that sugar production, which is a water guzzler, has factories concentrated in Solapur and Osmanabad. Aurangabad is one of the most affected districts. The water supply to the city of Aurangabad has run dry, as water in the Jaykawadi dam has come down to 2.62 per cent. To add to the woes of the city of Aurangabad, refugees are pouring in from contiguous areas. In the town of Deulgaon Raja, 25 kilometres from Jalna, the municipal corporation has itself confirmed that it is able to provide water only once in 25 days.
The Mohan Dharia Conservation Plan
Two decades ago, Mohan Dharia, social worker and former Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, developed a village-based action plan for tackling drought. The plan emphasised specific measures for water conservation. Pilot projects have been executed in Gavadewadi (Pune District), Varandh (Raigad) and Zari (Latur), to enhance water levels. The Planning Commission needs to urgently examine these pilot projects and replicate them in all drought-prone areas.
Allocation of Central Funds
The union budget for 2013-14 has allocated Rs 15,260 crore to the ministry of drinking water and sanitation, an increase of 17 per cent. The centre has allocated Rs 1,207 crore to Maharashtra for drought relief. The state government has also stepped up allocation for water resources and management. Given the woefully inadequate allocation to drinking water, there is a need for a quantum jump in the allocation, lest vast tracts of the population perish because of thirst.
Law and Order Problem
In a significant assessment of the critical situation, with conflicts over the use of available water, there could be a law and order problem in the immediate ensuing period. An official circular emphasises that protesters must be handled with patience and tact. The circular goes on to say "Failure of the law-enforcing agencies to handle the situation could lead to violence and a law and order problem… While dispersing violent crowds, the police should make use of effective lathi charge and should not resort to other means unless extremely necessary" (Times of India, March 9, 2013). To say the least, this is very sad.
Supply Drinking Water Irrespective of Cost
The situation in parts of Maharashtra is going to become increasingly critical in the next two months. The centre, the state, railways, road transport operators, defence services and social organisations should, irrespective of cost, ensure that the water famine does not result in a social explosion and deaths in the drought-affected areas.
Please Note: This article was first published in The Free Press Journal
on March 25, 2013. Syndicated.
This column, Common Voice is authored by Savak Sohrab Tarapore. Mr. Tarapore, is an economist and he runs his own Multi-Language Syndicated Column. Mr. Tarapore's other column, which appears in The Hindu Business Line, is titled Maverick View.
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