The government's response to the massive drought being faced by large parts of the country "is sadly listless, lacking in both urgency and compassion", 170 eminent citizens wrote in an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The signatories, including leading activists, economists and sociologists such as Aruna Roy, Harsh Mander, Jean Dreze, Jayati Ghosh and Ajit Ranade, noted that the crisis has resulted in "massive distress movement of populations, causing broken childhoods, interrupted education, life in camps, city pavements or crowded shanties".

They urged Modi to make "rapid amends, by implementing all the traditional relief measures as well as by ensuring full implementation of the National Food Security Act 2013 and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 in letter and spirit".

Here is the full text of the letter.

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

We wish to convey our deep collective anxiety about the enormous suffering of the rural poor in large parts of India’s countryside as they are battling drought, often for the second or even third consecutive year. In areas where rains have failed, farmers who depend mainly on rainwater to irrigate their crops have no or very low crop yields. Those who rely on irrigation are also affected, with groundwater sinking and streams and reservoirs drying up. All this adds to chronic agrarian distress reflected in a massive slowdown in agricultural growth during the last few years, with no imminent signs of recovery.

The consequence of this adversity is massive distress movement of populations, causing broken childhoods, interrupted education, life in camps, city pavements or crowded shanties. Add to this the old and the infirm who are left behind, to beg for food or just quietly die. The cattle for whom there is no fodder, sold at distress prices or just abandoned to fend for themselves. And the drying up even of sources of water to drink.

However, the response of central and state administrations to looming drought is sadly listless, lacking in both urgency and compassion. The scale of MGNREGA works is way below what is required and wages often remain unpaid for months. Even more gravely, the central and state governments are doing far too little to implement the National Food Security Act, three years after it came into force. Had the Act been in place, more than 80 per cent of rural households in the poorer states would be able to secure about half of their monthly cereal requirements almost free of cost. In a drought situation food security entitlements should be made universal.

In addition, we find no plans in most of the drought-hit regions for feeding the destitute, especially old persons left behind when families migrate, children without care-givers, the disabled and other vulnerable groups. ICDS centres could have been upgraded to supply emergency feeding to the destitute during the drought, but this has not happened. Under Supreme Court orders, school meals should be served on all days, including holidays, in drought-affected areas, but this is rarely the case. Arrangements to augment drinking water supply, including ensuring that marginalised hamlets have functioning tube-wells and transporting water where necessary, are awfully inadequate. There are also few attempts to create fodder banks and cattle camps. Most of these measures used to be a routine part of state response to drought, and were often undertaken with a great sense of urgency, but they are barely being considered today.

The highest priority of the central government in a drought situation should be to ensure the creation of millions of additional person-days of work in all affected villages. Instead, the government has not even allocated enough funds this year to sustain the level of employment generated last year – 233 crore person-days according to official data. At current levels of expenditure per person-day, this would cost well over Rs 50,000 crores. Yet the central government has allocated just Rs 38,500 crores to MGNREGA this year, of which more than Rs 12,000 crores are required to clear pending liabilities. These liabilities, only prove the distress crores of workers have been put through because of wages left unpaid for months at a time. Unemployment allowance and mandatory compensation for delayed wage payments, are also not paid citing “insufficient funds”, resulting in a failure of the Act, and its legal safeguards. Most alarming today, is that instead of expanding, MGNREGA is all set to contract in this critical drought year, unless financial allocations are vastly expanded.

The enormous distress – of food, drinking water, work, fodder for animals, and dignity – of hundred of millions is utterly unacceptable. We demand that the central government under your leadership acknowledges these failures and makes rapid amends, by implementing all the traditional relief measures as well as by ensuring full implementation of the National Food Security Act 2013 and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 in letter and spirit.


1. 1 Aruna Roy, senior activist, Rajasthan

2. Jean Dreze, Economist

3. Jayati Ghosh, Economist

4. Harsh Mander, Activist, Writer

5. Satish Deshpande, Academic, Sociologist

6. Deep Joshi, senior environmentalist and water activist

7. Prof. Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Emeritus, Economist, Senior academician

8. Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, Senior Economist

9. Vijay Vyas, Professor Emeritus, Senior Economist

10. Utsa Patnaik, Professor and Senior Economist

11. Arundhati Roy, Writer

12. Admiral Ramdas, former Chief of Naval Staff

13. Lalita Ramdas, activist, Maharashtra

14. Naseeruddin Shah, Actor

15. Brinda Karat, Women’s leader, Politician

16. Medha Patkar, Activist, politician, women’s leader

17. Shabana Azmi, Actor

18. Kavitha Kuruganti, Activist, leader of farmer’s groups

19. Nivedita Menon, Academic

20. Nandita Das, actor

21. Mukul Kesavan, writer

22. Leela Samson, dancer

23. Ashok Vajpeyi, writer

24. Justice Rajinder Sachar, senior jurist

25. Syeda Hameed, women’s leader, former member Planning Commission

26. Shyam Benegal, filmmaker

27. Himanshu Thakkar, environmentalist

28. Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Information Commissioner

29. Deepak Sandhu, former Chief Information Commissioner

30. Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner

31. Uma Chakravarty, historian

32. Ritwick Dutta, environmental legal activist

33. Trilochan Shastry, academic

34. Jagdeep Chhokar, academic

35. Advocate Vrinda Grover

36. Nandini Sundar, Sociologist

37. Shekhar Singh, RTI activist

38. Amar Kanwar, filmmaker

39. Prof C.P.Chandrasekhar, labour economist

40. Dilip Simeon, academic

41. Prithvi Sharma, activist, also on behalf of ICAN

42. Maja Daruwala, senior human rights activist

43. Mathew Cherian, Helpage

44. TM Krishna, Musician, Writer

45. Anand Patwardhan, filmmaker

46. Lalit Mathur, former civil servant

47. Kavita Srivastava, PUCL, Rajasthan

48. Anjali Bhardwaj, RTI activist

49. Achin Vinayak, academic and activist, Delhi

50. Ram Rehman, photographer

51. Pamela Philipose, journalist

52. Tushar.A.Gandhi , academic

53. Rita Anand, senior journalist

54. Nirmala Lakshman, senior journalist

55. Tripurari Sharma, Drama and Theater, playright

56. Harsh Sethi, writer

57. Madhu Bhaduri, former diplomat

58. Sharmila Tagore, Actor

59. Amitabh Mukhopadhyay, former auditor, CAG

60. Mridula Mukherjee, historian

61. Aditya Mukherjee, historian

62. Amita Baviskar, academic

63. Arundhati Dhuru, activist, UP

64. Kavita Krishnan, activist, leader of women’s groups

65. Reetika Khera, Economist

66. Sanjay Kak, filmmaker

67. Baba Adhav, labour leader

68. Achyut Das, activist, Odisha

69. Ajit Ranade, economist

70. Kalpana Kannabiran, sociologist, lawyer

71. Vasanth Kannabiran, teacher and activist, Andhra

72. Paul Divakar, dalit activist

73. Abha Sur, writer, academic

74. Rajni Bakshi, writer

75. Ravi Chopra, activist, Uttarakhand

76. Neelabh Mishra, writer

77. Poornima Chikarmane, Pune

78. Zoya Hasan , academic, political scientist

79. Shabnam Hashmi, activist

80. Rebecca John, academic

81. Anandalakshmy, academic

82. Smita Gupta, Economist, Head of economic cell, AIDWA

83. Praveen Jha, Economist

84. Gautam Navlakha, senior activist

85. Venkatesh Nayak, RTI activist

86. Seema Mustafa, journalist, editor, The Citizen

87. Bela Bhatia, academic

88. Bezwada Wilson, senior activist

89. Prof. Haragopal, academic

90. Sumit Chakravarty, Editor, Mainstream

91. Gargi Chakravarty, Women’s activist

92. Patricia Uberoi

93. Kamal Chenoy, senior academic

94. Janaki Nair, academic

95. Vipul Mudgal, journalist

96. Deepa Sinha, Right to Food activist

97. Himanshu, activist

98. Uma Pillai, former civil servant

99. Nikhil Dey, activist, Rajasthan

100. D.N.Rath, academic

101. Abey George,academic

102. Mahesh Pandya, ICAN

103. Jyothi Krishnan, academic

104. Balram, activist, Jharkhand

105. AL Rangarajan, ICAN

106. Rajaram Singh

107. Rameshwar Prasad, ICAN

108. Anand Murugesan, academic

109. Abha Bhaiya, women’s activist

110. Sagar Rabari, activist, Gujarat

111. Dhirendhra Singh

112. C. Rammanohar Reddy, former editor EPW, senior writer

113. Nandini K Oza, water activist, Maharasthra

114. Osama Manzar, Digital Empowerment Foundation

115. Rakesh Sharma

116. Pankti Jog, RTI activist

117. Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, RTI activist, Telangana

118. Subrat Das, economist

119. Umesh Anand, editor, Civil Society

120. Charul,singer, cultural activist

121. Vinay, singer, writer, musician, activist

122. Maya Caroli

123. Ashwini Kulkarni, activist, Pune

124. Vibha Puri Das

125. Surjit Das

126. Amrita Johri, RTI activist

127. Madhuresh Kumar, activist

128. Ankur Sarin

129. Dipak Dholakia

130. Navdeep Mathur

131. Harinesh, activist, Gujarat

132. Persis Ginwalla

133. Shamsul Islam, theatre activist

134. Prafulla Samantara, activist, Odisha

135. Lingraj Azad, activist, Odisha

136. Sunilam, activist, Madhya Pradesh

137. Aradhana Bhargava

138. Meera Chaudhary, activist

139. Suniti SR, activist, Pune

140. Suhas Kolhekar, activist Pune

141. Prasad Bagwe

142. Gabrielle Dietrich, leader of Women’s groups

143. Geetha Ramakrishnan, activist Tamil Nadu

144. C.R. Neelkandan

145. P Chennaiah, activist Telangana

146. Ramakrishnan Raju, activist, Andhra

147. Richa Singh, activist, Uttar Pradesh

148. Sister Cella

149. Vimal Bhai, activist, Himachal Pradesh

150. Jabar Singh, activist

151. Anand Mazgaonkar

152. Krishnakanth

153. Kamayani Swami, activist, Bihar

154. Ashish Ranjan, activist

155. Mahendra Yadav, activist

156. Faisal Khan, activist, Haryana

157. JS Walla

158. Kailash Meena, activist, Rajasthan

159. Amitava Mitra

160. Aveek Saha

161. BS Rawat

162. Rajendra Ravi

163. Shabnam Shaikh

164. Mahesh Pandya

165. H.S. Shylendra

166. Iqbalkhan Pulli

167. Soumen Ray

168. Ramachandra Prasad, ICAN

169. Ravi M.

170. Dipak Dholakia