The State of Karnataka is experiencing the worst drought ever in the last 42 years. The Government, in response has allocated a whopping sum of Rs.17 crores to approximately 35,000 temples spread across the state for collectively engaging, indulging and appeasing the rain gods. It would pose a veritable challenge for any sane individual to identify the more bizarre of the two facts that have been set out above! While the drought is to say the least an act of maudlin vagary on the part of Mother Nature, the proposed splurge of precious funds towards the invocation of the Grace and benediction of Providence, signifies an incredulous naivete on the part of the establishment vested with the administration of the State. This is a classic case of missing the woods for the trees!
While there is no harm in invoking the Grace of the Almighty for overcoming this grim situation, it must be understood that prayers can supplement but not substitute the requisite efforts. The pressing, nay, crying requirement for the State today is neither post-mortem prayers nor ritualistic rigmaroles, but a concrete system of Drought Management. The measures that are existing (or non-existing) today for countering situations arising out of a scanty and sparse rainfall are, to say the least, piffling. This lacunae unfortunately is not just the prerogative of the Government of Karnataka. The father of agricultural reforms in the country, Mr.M.S.Swaminathan, while lamenting over the lack of substantial efforts in tackling drought situations opined ” We are not prepared to handle the effects of climate change on agriculture. It is reflected through our management of drought situation in states like Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh”. (http://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/article3580194.ece)
It is not that the Government of Karnataka was spectacularly taken aback by a sudden onset of drought. For the year 2012, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) had downgraded the monsoon forecast to 96 per cent from the April forecast of 99 per cent. It is also not the case that the country is bereft of ideas or measures to engage in the conservation and preservation of water. Tried and tested means such as rain water harvesting to charge natural water bodies and ground water, storing the extra produce during rain-surplus seasons, urban run-offs and water storm captures could have been employed pre-emptively in order to prevent the calamitous suffering that a prolonged drought entails. The Government has been unbelievably callous in their efforts to undertake sincere and sustained Drought Management efforts. There are no contingency plans that are instituted to thwart the perils of a scanty monsoon. The rulers in Karnataka would do well to take a leaf out of the books of their counterparts in Saurashtra, which has tasted immense success by engaging in pre-emptive rain harvesting mechanisms. Being at the epicentre of one of the worst ever droughts in the century that befell the country in the year 2000-01, the State swung into action and instituted drought management reforms on a war footing. Check dams were constructed and the villagers themselves were co-opted in endeavours relating to drought management. The Vruksh Prem Seva Sanstha Trust (VPSST) aided in establishing village management committees called “Watershed Vikas Samiti” (Watershed Development Committee) whose main task was the appropriate management and planning of check dams. Such concerted action has yielded ripe fruition in the form of increased cultivable areas and improved crop yields. While it is obvious that the topography of the land can and will vary from one place to the other and that what might be plausible for Saurashtra might not be viable for Karnataka, there ought not be any want of efforts in adopting the requisite means. The Karnataka Government would do well to read a report which highlights this transformation in detail at: http://www.rainwaterharvesting.org/happenings/water_wells.htm
If the Saurashtra story is not inspiring enough to spur a callous Government into action, then the story scripted by Israel in transforming its barren patches into blooming fields ought to work as a catalyst. In an insightful paper titled “Drought and Arid Land Water Management”, Michael Zaide, the Strategic Planning Engineer, Water Division, in the Ministry of National Infrastructure lays down the various illuminating focal points of the Government in Water Management. Israel in fact has been faced with the insurmountable task of water management right from the year of its establishment as an independent sovereign in the year 1948. The fact that such a grim situation has been impeccably, incredibly and intuitively managed, bears ample testimony to the scientific bent of the successive Governments and the resilience of the citizenry. Any interested soul in the Karnataka Government, having the time and inclination to know more about these fantastic efforts just needs to access the aforementioned enlightening paper at: http://www.un.org/esa/agenda21/natlinfo/countr/israel/drought.pdf
There is an urgent need for the administrative establishment in the State of Karnataka to unshackle the bonds of lethargy and shun the lackadaisical attitude, in order to take agrarian reforms to a higher level. The time to act is now. And that act ought to take the shape of institutionalizing Drought Management Plans, establishing Drought Management Committees and Panels and ensuring stringent and compulsory implementation of sustainable, solid and serious long-term measures for water management. Mere proselytisation of religious notions and prostration at the feet of child priests, while surely signifying the religious bent of the men in charge, will do very little to bring relief, rehabilitation and repair to a farmer whose only source of livelihood depends upon the opening up of the heavens. For, nature has neither rewards not punishments, but only consequences.