Tamil Nadu’s move to declare a drought, ironically on the eve of the harvest festival of Pongal, is an important step to address the agrarian distress that is sweeping the State following poor rainfall during the northeast monsoon.
Even with relatively better governance structures, desperation among farmers has resulted in a spate of suicides, particularly in the Cauvery delta rice belt that has received little water from Karnataka in recent times.
Implication of declaring drought
Postponement of loan recovery, waiver of land tax and alternative employment through schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
1. A monsoon management centre drawing upon the expertise of multiple departments would help use scarce resources conservatively during a drought and maximise their potential in good times.
2. It is also crucial to preserve the health of cattle and other livestock, as they tend to suffer irreparable harm during drought, with cascading effects on their future productivity.
3. The Centre should provide all support to achieve this under the National Disaster Response Fund and the Prime Minister’s crop insurance scheme.
State of drought management
The importance of welfare support for small and marginal farmers cannot be overstated, given the vagaries of the monsoon. More than a decade ago, the National Commission on Farmers pointed out that successive droughts, illness, high expenditure on social obligations and asset loss push farmers to the brink.
Yet, not much has changed in the management of drought from the low-budget practices of the colonial era, as the Swaraj Abhiyan case in the Supreme Court last year revealed.
In Tamil Nadu, excessive reliance on water-intensive rice cultivation, and lower priority for hardy millets have raised the risk for many farmers. Active recharging of groundwater and harvesting of surface water are vital to meet the challenges.