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A Second Drought

India has to brace up for a drought in succession, a rare phenomenon that has happened only thrice in 115 years. Rainfall forecast is 88% of average. The tasks before the central and state governments are very challenging. Farmers are already in a bad situation. There was unseasonal rain in Rajasthan and Haryana in March-April this year which ruined crops and led to suicides by farmers. The distress in rural areas is going to be more severe. The central government has promised support to farmers with a new crop insurance policy, but we hope the promise does not remain on paper.

Farmers will require assistance in money or kind for seeds and fertilisers. Water table will go down. So states have to find ways to provide water to farms. Drought brings greatest misery to landless labourers in villages. State governments must make higher allocations for providing employment to them through NREGA. It has been known that rural labourers have to pay bribe in order to get employment and wages under NREGA. The state governments through their district administration should carry out close monitoring of the NREGA works in order to ensure that the labourers do not have to pay bribe to the panchayat officials or contractors. The country has enough buffer stock of wheat and rice to distribute through the fair price route. But the state governments need to prevent diversion of the stocks given to fair price shops to the open market.

Drought will drive prices upwards. The country will watch how the Modi government manages to keep inflation under control by keeping domestic supplies adequate. If food import duties need to be relaxed they should be in order to get commodities such as pulses which are going to be in short supply. Rise in food prices can lead to a spiral effect on the prices of wages and other goods.

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