About 25% of India’s population is currently reeling from record-high temperatures and severe drought conditions. Deficient rainfall for two consecutive monsoons has made life very harsh for about 330 million people across the country.
It was in this backdrop that Bhairon Prasad Mishra, Bharatiya Janata Party MP from Banda in Uttar Pradesh, sought on Monday to raise the question of financial assistance for drought-affected farmers in his state. Since then, the lower house of the parliament has functioned for more than 11 hours but hasn’t found the time to discussing the problem.
So far, more than 200 people are believed to have died in just Odisha and Telangana, which are among the worst-affected regions.
Since Monday, the Lok Sabha has witnessed heated discussions on the Uttarakhand government and the situation at the National Institute of Technology in Srinagar, in addition to passing the Sikh Gurudwara (Amendment) Bill 2016, paving the way for Sehajdhari or unbaptised Sikhs to be barred from voting in elections to the community's religious bodies. But drought is yet to feature in the list of business.
On the other hand, Rajya Sabha had a three-and-a-half hour discussion on the crisis on Wednesday, when the opposition parties cornered the government over this issue. The members of the upper house called on the government to take immediate relief measures on war footing in order to address the “national crisis”.
This is perhaps what has prompted economists and public policy commentators to point that the crisis threatens to get worse thie year because the government hasn’t shown any urgency in providing relief.
“Droughts in India used to be times of frantic relief activity. Large-scale public works were organised, often employing more than 100,000 workers in a single district,” wrote economist Jean Dreze in The Hindu on Wednesday. “This year, nothing like the same sense of urgency can be observed, despite 256 districts being declared drought-affected.”
Dreze pointed out that the simplest way to help people is to strengthen their financial position by providing them more social security and creating more days of work through employment guarantee programmes but none of this seems to have happened so far.
“For the first time, India has a lasting infrastructure of public support that can, in principle, be expanded in drought years to prevent hunger and starvation," he wrote. "Business as usual, however, seems to be the motto.”
Responding to the debate in the Rajya Sabha, the Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh assured the house that the government was monitoring the situation andthat funds had already been sanctioned to drought-hit states. Minister for Water Resources Uma Bharti said that the government is “well-aware” of the situation and such a crisis would not “arise again”.