It’s official now. The country is in the middle of the worst drought since independence. The statements made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his recent meet with the Chief Secretaries of States testify the intensity of this drought. Official estimates state that there will be 29% shortfall of rain as compared to normal levels and at least 246 districts have been declared drought hit till now.
Hey wait. So, are we going to talk about the same saga of how this drought will adversely affect the growth rate of the economy, how the already suffering agriculture sector would be doomed, how the drought will encourage distress migration and pose a danger to the food security programmes? No, not at all. We can leave upon this task on to the experts of whom articles on drought are being featured in newspapers on a daily basis. Let me accept this. Instead of serving as piece of information, such articles give me the jitters. They paint a gloomy situation of the country post-drought where everything looks doomed.
So, for a change let’s look at a positive side of this drought. This may even make you think how can there be a positive aspect of a drought. Surprisingly, there is. A look into India’s history of droughts is a testimony to the same. The drought of mid 1960s was one of the major droughts we faced after the independence. It clearly exposed our vulnerability in providing food security to the people. But the then government took it as a lesson, and what we term today as “The Green Revolution” came into being. In the next one decade, we more or less became self sufficient in food. Another major drought of 1987-88 acted as a catalyst to keep the prices of cereals low and thus addressed the issue of food security further. The Policymakers learnt how Government can intervene into the market mechanism to balance the prices of foodgrains. The 2002-03 drought turned out to be a nightmare for many rural families (it resulted into large-scale suicides of farmers). It helped realise the Policymakers and the rest of the country that apart from food security, what rural people require the most is credit. It also brought to surface the acute problem of unemployment in rural areas. The answer to it was found in Employment Guarantee Programs (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) and easily availability of credit (increased number of Microfinance Institutions). So, what positive can we expect from the drought we are facing right now and what the Government should ensure to learn out of it? The following is its quick snapshot :
- Strengthening the NREGS (scope of activities under NREGA and ensuring accountability);
- Enacting the Right to Food Act;
- Diversifying and strengthening the agriculture production, purchase and distribution system. For instance, as per a recently published report, Punjab and Haryana are said to be drawing water beyond the sustainable level. This can pose a serious danger to the food security of the country in the future. In absence of any innovation in the agriculture production, and inability of the Government in enhancing productivity and increase grain output in other states, Punjab and Haryana turn out to be the only available option. This increases the reliance of the country on these two states for its need of grains, and
- Development of long-term sustainable irrigation infrastructure.
Let’s look upon this drought as an opportunity to further build upon the growth of the country, and not merely keep a horse eye sight lamenting the shortfall in the rainfall and worrying about its adverse impact on the GDP of the country. Our Policymakers need to be optimistic in these tough yet opportunistic times.