Shocking images of water being wasted on the grounds for IPL matches depict the irony of the Maharashtra government’s policy to tackle drought in Marathwada. Lack of rainfall for yet another calendar year meant 10 states had to be declared drought hit. Yet the Centre or the State Governments failed to take any action until the Supreme Court intervened.
According to a reply filed by the Government in Supreme Court, more than a quarter of the country’s population has been affected by drought. Over 200,000 villages have shortage of drinking water, let alone water for agriculture and other daily needs. The situation in Marathwada is even worse where children and wives have to walk miles to fetch only one bucket of water.
Following the Supreme Court’s intervention, began the political blame game. Asked whether it was washing its hands of the growing number of drought-affected areas in the country, the Centre told the Supreme Court that the onus of declaring drought rests with the State governments. The irony lies in the fact that while there are thousands of litres of water to setup helipads for politicians, there isn’t any for the poor farmer. Pankaja Munde’s selfie controversy and Uma Bharti’s remark on drought only show the insensitive attitude of the political establishments towards the present crisis
The agrarian crisis, described by many as the worst seen by the country in decades, cannot be seen only as a natural calamity. While lack of rainfall for a couple of years now is one of the primary reasons, it is not the only one. Lack of preparation on part of the government, lopsided agricultural activities and failure to store rainwater are some of the other causes. In Maharashtra 70% of the irrigation water is used up by the sugarcane industries, owned by politicians cutting across party lines. Groundwater in Maharashtra has dipped to alarming levels and there has been little progress in the state’s groundwater rejuvenation projects.
The situation in Bundelkhand, which is facing drought for the second consecutive year, is even bleaker. Villages wear a deserted look with farmers fleeing to cities in search of newer means of income. According to a CNN IBN report, at least 18 lakh people, about 10% of the population of Bundelkhand, have migrated to Delhi alone during the past one year. In Jails there isn’t enough water for inmates to bath or cook food. Employment under the MNREGS scheme has been too less and people are crying out for an increase of the number of days from 100 to 150 or even more. The common question that arises in the minds of the people is how can a government, State or Center, be so insensitive towards the same people who voted them to power?
For years economic growth in the country, where majority of the population lives in rural regions, has not been uniformly distributed. While on one hand the urban population has seen the light of development, the rural regions still lack basic amenities required to sustain life.
The reaction of the urban middle class population towards drought has been indifferent. Campaigns to save water by different NGOs spanning across the nation have brought little change in the minds of urban-dwellers. That IPL receives more attention than drought speaks a lot about today’s generation.
After Supreme Court’s intervention, the Center finally started releasing relief funds to the states. The Jaldoot Express has already begun its journey to drought hit Latur and will be providing water to 5 lakh households. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has offered 10 lakh litres of water to drought hit regions of Maharashtra daily. Maharashtra government has banned all sugarcane industries for the next 5 years to prevent misuse of water. The Bombay High Court has also asked the BCCI to shift all IPL matches from Mumbai and Pune after April 30.
Though the steps taken up by the government are worthy of appreciation- they are too little and too late for the impoverished farmers. The need of the hour is to think about the future so that situations such as these can be handled better. India, which is home to 17% of the world’s population, has only 4% of the world’s water resources. The summer will only be getting hotter and hotter every year, and water scarcity severe. Improving irrigation infrastructure, better watershed management, efficient and economic use of water are key measures needed to tackle drought. Projects to rejuvenate groundwater, store rainwater and reduce wastage of water have to be taken up with greater seriousness. The Center and the State has to work with better co-ordination to tackle any natural calamity in the near future.
WRITTEN BY: ARKA RAHA