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The great Indian drought

 | August 10, 2012

Most of India is now facing a terrible drought, the monsoon having failed till now.

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Once, when the rains failed in Chennai and the city was starved of water with its teeming millions thirsty and angry, the local government sought divine help.

Pujas were performed in temples, prayers were said in churches, and a leading musician played his instrument on the shores of the Bay of Bengal pleading with the gods to quench Chennai’s thirst.

In Vijay Anand’s classic film, Guide, based on RK Narayan’s literary work, Dev Anand’s Raju the Guide is forced by ignorant villagers to fast for rain. As Raju lay dying, the clouds burst into rain wetting the parched land and sending people on a joyous dance.

Most of India is now facing a terrible drought, the monsoon having failed till now. And Indians have begun to blame the rain god and are begging for his mercy.

This is the India that is striding into the 21st century — an India which is stupid enough to believe in heavenly intervention instead of addressing a problem that deeply affects the country’s farming, crop production and farmers themselves.

Thousands of farmers would have no option but to kill themselves, while the administration and the bureaucracy are busy pointing fingers at the skies, when they ought to be hanging their heads in shame.

In a scenario where more than 60 per cent of cultivable land depend on rain, farmers are forced to grow water-guzzling hybrid crops. One important reason for this is the aggressive marketing of hybrid seeds with the industry concerned pushing it hard on farmers.

Hybrid seeds also need more fertilisers and pesticides, and strangely farmers in the relatively dry regions are made to use hybrid varieties of rice, sorghum, pearl millet, cotton and vegetables. These crops need a lot more water than the improved strains of high-yielding varieties.

Also, a dry area like the state of Rajasthan grows sugarcane and cotton, both of which consume copious amount of water.

As one writer quips: Do not blame the rain goods for the woes of the farmers. Blame the planners and the seed suppliers who are making hay as the sun shines. Literally.

With the monsoon late by a full two months, India’s meteorological guys have had to finally admit that the rains this year would be inadequate. Till now, they were merrily dishing out hunky dory figures.

One understands that it is no mean task to predict weather accurately. But the point is, why is India still relying on the rains for its crop production, thereby playing with the lives of millions of farmers.

Every time, there is a drought, the government makes promises, tall and mighty, and these are never kept, leading to the entirely avoidable but tragic suicides of hundreds of farmers. Hit by drought and crop failures, and caught in a web of debts spun by evil money-lenders, the farmers kill themselves.

The administration does precious little.

This year, the redeeming feature is that India has 82 million tonnes of rice and wheat in its godowns, and so there is little fear of a food shortage.

Even then a farmer needs to have money to buy food, and for that he has to have a crop to sell. Otherwise, a shop full of rice and wheat becomes useless. He and his family may well die of hunger.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at[email protected]. He is an FMT columnist.


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