In fact: There is a drought in many parts of India. Why hasn’t it been noticed?

Because this time, it’s only rural producers, not urban consumers, who are feeling the heat

Written by Harish Damodaran | Published:April 1, 2016 1:17 am
drought, drought in india, india drought, maharashtra drought, marathwada drought, crop failure, india crop failure, latur water crisis, maharashtra water crisis, maharashtra news, india news, agriculture news, latest news Many in thirsty Marathwada walk 14 km or more from their homes to fetch water every day. (Source: Express Archive/November 2015)

This time’s drought has been a most unusual one.

Even with three consecutive bad crops (kharif 2014, rabi 2015, and kharif 2015) and a fourth not-so-great one (thankfully, there’s been no big damage from the unseasonal rain and hail unlike in March 2015), annual consumer food price inflation is only 5.3 per cent.

In the past, droughts invariably fuelled speculation and hoarding by unscrupulous traders. But this time, Indians in the cities are hardly feeling the pinch. Barring sugar, where the price increase in recent weeks is more of a correction from unhealthy lows, consumers aren’t paying all that more for what they are eating compared to a year ago. No one’s talking much today about onion prices. Even arhar dal is selling cheaper than when it consumed the BJP in Bihar’s Assembly elections during October-November 2015; the same goes for urad, moong or masur.

Simply put, this is a drought essentially of farmers and rural producers.

And since it isn’t really pinching urban consumers, politicians even in Maharashtra — where the drought is most acute — have found it more important to discuss whether or not chanting “Bharat Mata ki Jai” amounts to treason. Incidentally, AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi’s speech taking on RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat that set off the debate was delivered in Latur — in the drought’s epicentre of Marathwada. (The Indian Express published a series of five reports, ‘Waterless in Marathwada’ between March 16 and 26.)

But for farmers, the current crisis isn’t just of production losses from drought. It is also one of low price realisations. Farmers in Maharashtra are today selling cow milk at Rs 15-16 per litre, compared to Rs 25-26 a year ago. This, despite a severe fodder shortage that would also means higher production costs.

In most crops — whether cotton, rubber, basmati, guar seed or even potatoes, apples, kinnow and pineapples — producer realisations are below what they were a couple of years ago. The only reason nobody is talking about onion these days is because the bulb is being sold in Maharashtra’s Lasalgaon market at below Rs 7/kg, as against Rs 12 last March, and Rs 45-plus in early September, when pyaaz was grabbing all the headlines.

The drought, in a sense, has only added to the miseries of rural producers who are simultaneously battling the effects of a global commodity crash, which has hit agricultural exports and farm prices. That, in turn, also explains why urban consumers aren’t particularly feeling the heat of drought: they have been shielded mainly by low global prices. Compare this to the situation in 2007 — when international prices were on the boil, and India had food riots everywhere, including in places like West Bengal.

Right now, the drought is not about agriculture: The current rabi crop — whatever has been planted — is close to being harvested, if it has not been harvested already. The more immediate concern, instead, is about drinking water. With two-and-a-half months to go for the monsoon to arrive in the most parched areas and the country’s major reservoirs barely 25 per cent full, meeting peak summer drinking water requirements is going to be a challenge. It will be even more so in Marathwada, where reservoir water levels are down to 5 per cent of full storage capacity.

The one consolation India has is that global climate models are pointing to a “weakening” of El Niño, which was the main cause of the 2015 drought. The 2015-16 El Niño was one of the longest, starting around February last. It is even now in a “strong” phase — and is expected to enter the “neutral” zone only towards May, according to the latest forecast of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Since there is usually a lag of two months or so between its effects translating into actual rainfall, one cannot rule out a delay in the monsoon, even if it turns out to be normal.

The NOAA is also giving a 50 per cent probability of a La Niña — El Niño’s opposite, which is beneficial for the Indian monsoon — developing from August. But that again would deliver good rain not earlier than in the second half of the monsoon. A delayed, but good, monsoon is what seems most likely now. And that would mean a minimum three-month wait before things finally look up.

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    Ding Dong
    Apr 1, 2016 at 6:52 pm
    Brahmins, Martians , Modi and aliens should be blamed..It is all due to them. Once Italians come to power, drought will disappear.
    1. S
      Apr 5, 2016 at 2:49 am
      Rural India is full of anti-national , Sickular communists and maoists. lt;br/gt;They are intentionally failing to recognize that it is raining "Acche Din" all over India.
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        Anuj Kapoor
        Apr 7, 2016 at 10:25 am
        Mr. Damodaran ... Are you seriously telling us that even when India is importing the Global food prices remained low. You should seriously start studying a bit more before making such reports. The primary reason for this non movement of prices has been the fact that- one the cost of transportation has come down along with the fact that middlemen has not been able to jack up the prices - speculating as they are aware that this Government will not give them leeway like the previous Government ... and for all of you who would like to refer me as Bhakt .. please go through the facts before commenting.
        1. S
          Apr 8, 2016 at 11:19 pm
          So what? All water is used stolen and used up for bottled water from which 60% of incomes goes to all political parties. That is one area where brahmins have not been able to penetrate their discrimination.
          1. S
            Apr 8, 2016 at 11:20 pm
            Where is Kanhaiya Kumar, Kejriwal. They drank all water
            1. B
              Apr 8, 2016 at 4:30 pm
              1. S
                Sundar BN
                Apr 6, 2016 at 4:49 am
                Our Netas are born corrupt. Corruption is thrust upon them too, in their formative years. They achieve corruption in spite of all this through various Padma awards. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;On top of that congenital corruption in them, the media since the past few years has suc8ed them into its whirlpool of eye candy. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Ergo, these Netas work only on stuff that catch the eye of the media. While we revile the revelation that Rakhi Sawant had yesterday and accordingly informed the PM about banning all ceiling fans 'cos they cause suicides, our Netas are not any wiser than that mindless child of the celluloid. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;There was this VVIP who quoth that it was too early to distrust Pak. lt;br/gt;There are these mull4hs of Pompore who screamed obscene slogans. Over their PA systems;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Yet our ardent and devoted deshBhakts can only go after an unshaven college student or a helpless old man in Dadri. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;They shall NOT ever touch those mull4hs or the mafiosi of;br/gt;They shall Not even go after the students of NIT Srinagar even. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;And, they won't touch the folks mentioned in the Panama Papers nor those with NPAs. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Their area of bravado and bombast is reserved to victims whom they can outnumber and beat up from the safety of the anonymity that a mob provides them. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;For instance, the IPL matches in Mumbai are going to use up humongous amounts of water that'll be spilled on the playing ground. lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;How come our mobs aren't hammering on the doors of BCCI and making them shift the venue? They went to the Presidents office and threatened him about an impending Pak;br/gt;lt;br/gt;But, they won't take up cudgels against wastage of water that could otherwise be given to thirsty;br/gt;lt;br/gt;Now, y'see why drought is being glossed over?
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                  Deeksha Sharma
                  Apr 4, 2016 at 12:26 pm
                  Drought will vanish once everyone starts chanting Bharat Mata KI Jai. At once it will start raining and Bharat Mata will give birth to a healthy crop.
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