Is India facing a third drought in four years? What will its impact be?
Is India facing a third drought in four years?
The met department had earlier dismissed the threat with projections of 96% rainfall (+5% of the long period average during kharif 2017).
But now, Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh has written letters to all Chief Ministers to review measures to handle the situation, in case of a possible monsoon failure.
This has put up a red flag. It indicates, though the indication is as yet quite mild, that things may turn out to be bad for the Indian agriculture sector in the kharif season.
In his letter, Singh has directed state governments to check the availability of drought-resistant seeds, and to set aside 25% of funds received under Centrally-sponsored schemes as flexi-funds to deal with the adverse impact of natural calamities.
How would a drought impact agriculture?
Agriculture contributes around 15% to the Indian GDP, but it supports nearly 40% of Indian population. While in 2016-17, the agriculture sector is estimated to have grown at 4.1%, according to the Economic Survey 2016-17, in the previous two years, it grew at 1.1% (2015-16) and -0.2% (2014-15) due to consecutive droughts.
A third drought in four years would spell disaster for the farm sector, according to YK Alagh, a noted agricultural economist and former Union minister.
“The government should be clear about the possibility of a drought. Earlier, the met department said that the monsoon this year would be normal, but now, the minister is writing to state Chief Ministers to be prepared for it. The government needs to make a proper assessment of the weather situation in the country,” Alagh says.
Action plan for drought
In case there is a drought, the government should go by the Mukherjee-Gadgil formula to allocate funds to the state governments, irrespective of whether the government is ruled by Opposition parties or by the BJP and its allies, says Alagh.
“We have stopped formula-based assistance to states, which is a problem in deciding which state will get how much,” he says.
Agriculture expert Devinder Sharma adds: “It is good that the Union minister has alerted the state governments in advance. Now, the government should ensure that there are enough seeds available to the farmers for sowing short term crops in case of a delayed or less monsoon.
“State governments need to ensure there is availability of diesel to the farmers, as they would be using more ground water to irrigate the their farms in the absence of rainfall.”
Another casualty during a bad monsoon is livestock, and Sharma advises the government to ensure the availability of fodder to the farmers, so that there is minimum damage to the livestock wealth.
Impact on GDP
Since the agriculture sector accounts for only 15% of the GDP, it is unlikely that a bad monsoon will have much impact on the GDP numbers.
“As long as other sectors do well, there would not be much problem with the growth numbers, but any delay in the planning for the drought will lead to distress in the lives of lakhs of farmers,” says Alagh.