Over 150 prominent personalities have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing their “deep collective anxiety” over the severe drought prevailing in many parts of rural India.
The crisis has only evoked a “listless response” from the government, they said, asking it to implement traditional relief measures and ensure that the MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Gurantee Act) as well as the National Food Security Act are used effectively to counter the situation.
The signatories of the letter included activists Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander; economists Jean Dreze, Prabhat Patnaik, Jayati Ghosh, Amit Bhaduri and Utsa Patnaik; writer Arundhati Roy; and actors Naseeruddin Shah, Sharmila Tagore and Shabana Azmi, among others.
They said people across the country are struggling with rain shortfall – causing chronic agrarian distress and large scale migration of the rural population to cities. The problems arising from this are many, including broken childhoods and interrupted education, they added.
Of the 33 districts in Rajasthan, 19 are reeling under a severe water crisis. The government’s public health engineering department has taken up steps to transport water to around 17,000 of its 44,672 villages.
Purulia and Bankura districts in western West Bengal have been severely hit, with their ground water levels dipping sharply. “This district has not seen rain since August last year. This followed two years of drought-like situation here. We are spending funds allotted by the 14th Finance Commission to tackle the situation. But the ground water level is so low in some areas that even digging tube wells is of no use. Wells are being dug on riverbeds,” Purulia district magistrate Tanmay Chakraborty told HT.
River expert Kalyan Rudra attributes the drought-like situation to the abnormally high temperature, little or no rainfall, and the exhaustion of ground water.
A similar situation exists in many other states.
The activists have alleged that the government’s response lacks “urgency and compassion”. They said that while workers haven’t been paid their wages for months, the states have been doing little to implement the Food Security Act – which would have helped 80% of rural households in poor states access half their cereal requirements free of cost.
“The enormous distress – of food, drinking water, work, fodder for animals, and dignity – for hundreds of millions is utterly unacceptable,” the letter said.