People, mostly in rural areas, across the country are struggling with severe drought conditions, not because of any lack of rainfall, but due to a lack of planning and foresight, and criminal neglect, say environment activists.
This was the consensus arrived at a consultation, jointly organised by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Swaraj Abhiyan, under the banner of Jai Kisan Andolan, a nation-wide public movement for farmers' rights.
The consultative meeting saw farmers from 12 states coming together in the national capital today to participate in a day-long discussion on the crisis which is devastating rural India.
The consultations ended with a panel discussion involving Anupam Mishra (Gandhi Peace Foundation), Devinder Sharma (Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security), P Sainath (senior journalist), Sunita Narain (Centre for Science and Environment and Yogendra Yadav (Jai Kisan Andolan-Swaraj Abhiyan).
Speaking on the occasion, Narain said, ''Drought in the 1990s was essentially the drought of a poor India. This 2016 drought is of richer and more water-guzzling India. This classless drought makes for a crisis that is more severe and calls for solutions that are more complex. The severity and intensity of drought is not about lack of rainfall; it is about the lack of planning and foresight, and criminal neglect. Drought is human-made.''
In his address, Yogendra Yadav, national convenor of Swaraj Abhiyan, spoke of a letter from a marginalised farmer in Maharashtra's Marathwada district and how it became the basis of a public interest petition that Yadav filed in the Supreme Court and helped draw the Apex court's attention to the crisis.
The meeting saw the release of a special edition of the science and environment fortnightly, Down To Earth on completion of 25 years of its existence, with an in-depth coverage of drought in India.
Quoting official sources, the magazine points out that the drought-prone area of the country has increased by 57 per cent since 1997.
One-third of India's districts have faced more than four droughts over the past decade, and 50 million people are affected by drought every year.
Writing in the magazine, its managing editor Richard Mahapatra says: ''Drought and food security are critically linked. Drought-prone districts account for 42 per cent of the country's cultivable land. For maintaining food security, even at the current nutritional levels, an additional 100 million tonnes (MT) of foodgrains need to be produced by 2020. According to estimates, 40 per cent of this additional supply has to come from these districts.''
''So, it is not about whether our drought relief operations are effective. Rather, India can't afford to have droughts any more. A long-term strategy to make India drought-free is the biggest message of the 2016 crisis,'' he added.
Narain pointed out how the drought that engulfed several parts of the country 25 years ago is repeating itself with a vengeance.
''Twenty-five years back, DTE founder editor Anil Agarwal had come up with an in-depth story on drought - Drought is here to stay in India, the story said. And after 25 years, we are again publishing and discussing this subject in the same manner.''
To combat the problem, Narain put forth a three-pronged action plan, which includes augmentation of water resources, revising and updating the drought code, and securing water for all times.
This, she said, would mean building more water harvesting structures based on water planning and not just employment (as under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme), shutting off all non-essential water use, from watering lawns to hosing down cars and benchmarking water use and setting targets for reduced consumption year on year.
Over 540 million rural people in 13 states, including farmers, constituting two-fifth of the population of the country, are in the grip of drought, many of them for years on.
People are battling for drinking water. Thirsty and hungry domestic cattle have been released and are dying nomadic deaths; farms are fallow and livelihood has come to a standstill
But, Chatar Singh Jam, a farmer from Jaisalmer in arid Rajasthan, says there has never been a problem of drought or incident of farmer suicide in the region, because the farmers there believe in and follow traditional water management practices.