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After two years of relatively good rains, large parts of Maharashtra (especially the Marathwada region and the adjoining districts of Jalgaon, Nashik, Ahmednagar, Sholapur, Amravati and Yavatmal), North Gujarat, Saurashtra, Kutch and North Karnataka are reeling under drought.

Farmers’ distress this year

  • What is different this time is that it has been induced by the southwest monsoon’s failure in the second half of the season.
  • The rains were, in fact, quite good in most of these areas during June-July. The monsoon’s timely arrival led to the area sown under kharif crops being more or less normal.
  • Farmers were, however, caught unaware by the extended dry spell from August, when their already planted crops were in the late vegetative growth stage.
  • These farmers are in no position to plant a rabi crop; there’s hardly any soil and subsoil moisture left to allow that.
  • What would worry them more is providing water and fodder to their cattle and buffaloes.
  • Farmers already burdened by successive years of low crop realisations and the more recent spike in the cost of diesel, fertiliser and pesticides.

Drought: When, and how, does a state govt declare one?

While the word ‘drought’ usually brings to mind a period of unusually dry weather, crop damage and water supply shortages, there are guidelines in place for a state government for declaring a drought in a state or area.

A manual published by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2016 suggests a three-step approach.

  • The first step is to look at two mandatory indicators — rainfall deviation and dry spell.
  • Depending on the extent of deviation, and whether or not there is a dry spell, the manual specifies various situations that may or may not be considered a drought trigger.
  • The second step is to look at four impact indicators — agriculture, vegetation indices based on remote sensing, soil moisture, and hydrology.
  • Each impact can be assessed on the basis of various indices.
  • If all three chosen indicators are in the ‘severe’ category, it amounts to severe drought; and if two of the three chosen impact indicators are in the ‘moderate’ or ‘severe’ class, it amounts to moderate drought.
  • The third step comes in after both previous triggers have been set off.
  • States will conduct sample survey for ground truthing, in order to make a final determination of drought.
  • The finding of field verification exercise will be the final basis for judging the intensity of drought as ‘severe’ or ‘moderate’.
  • Once a drought is determined, the state government needs to issue a notification specifying the geographical extent. The notification is valid for six months, unless de-notified earlier.

Way forward

For the governments at the Centre and in the concerned states, the most sensible option is to act fast. Maharashtra has claimed that more than half of its talukas are already facing “drought-like” conditions. There is no reason to delay sending Central teams to ascertain the ground situation and officially declare drought.

Rabi season drought may be a somewhat rare phenomenon, but its impact on crop production and supply of water and fodder is no less, extending to the following summer. Preparation for starting fodder camps, taking up MGNREGA works or making direct benefit transfers to the most vulnerable families should start sooner than later.

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