A Dam’s Story on Why India’s Droughts Are Not Just Natural

You may not have ample food this year. That’s a very scary thought, isn’t it? And it’s true to a large and dangerous extent. No, not only because of the meat ban – that’s a very urban and political phenomenon. It’s because the country’s suffering from a serious drought situation. Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have gone dry in many districts. Farmers are attempting and succeeding at suicides amid failing monsoon and governance.

A month back I was in Uttar Pradesh’s Balrampur district. This is the place from where the former Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee started his political career. It’s also a place of strong religious and political activities, and has the ancient Buddhist city Shravasti close-by. A little further east, towards the India-Nepal border is a quaint village, called Naekiniya. A village which still has houses without electricity, but they are managing with solar power, and LED lamps. A few homes connected to the state electricity supply get power for 5-6 hours per day.

Ganeshpur Dam, Geographically

The village is surrounded by vast lands of sugarcane, millet, wheat, and a lot of other grains. There are two artificial ponds to cater to the irrigation needs of the farmers, but without ample rain, they are of not much use. In 1936, the Britishers built the Ganeshpur Dam, a catchment area for rain water, connecting the farms with canals. It was built by laborers as part of an employment scheme, with their bare hands. 15 years ago the dam got its only controller stolen, which has left the dam without much use.

There are only meadows now, and cattle graze on the land. The water flows out from the damaged dam.
There are only meadows now, and cattle graze on the land. The water flows out from the damaged dam.
The water flow regulator has been stolen, by carefully severing the iron wheel.
The water flow regulator has been stolen, by carefully severing the iron wheel.

There are only meadows now, and cattle graze on the land. The Himalayas stand at a distance, and occasionally send down water whenever it rains. The rain-water flows out without any regulation, leaving people high-and dry in a drought. It would probably require only a few lakhs to get the regulator restored, but the administration has failed. The maintenance comes under the purview of Uttar Pradesh’s Irrigation Department. It’s been more than a decade since anyone saw any development in the irrigation facilities.

“We’ve lost all hope of a good yield. We may have to eat the soil for food,” says Ghulam Hussain, a farmer. “The borewells too aren’t able to work properly in this heat and water shortage. The land gets charred,” adds Hussain.

India is suffering from back-to-back droughts for the fourth time in a century. There Prime Minister hasn’t taken up any proactive measure to reduce the burden on the farmers. The various ministries are still ‘closely observing’ the situation while the heat and rain deficit keep on rising. India’s June-September monsoon rains are so far 14 percent below normal. In 2014, a 12 percent rain deficit brought down the grain output by 4.5 percent.

It would still take a lot of time and concern to bring the attention of media, citizens and more importantly the political class towards the drying up lands. As is the case with the Ganeshpur Dam, timely remedies and infrastructural maintenance could save a lot of hassles, and mitigate such situations. Much of the problem is due to the administrative apathy. “Ab koi sarkaari afsar aaye, hum peet denge chahe jail kyun na jaana pade (Let a government officer come her next. We will beat him up, even if means going to jail),” says a villager near the Ganeshpur Dam.

The farmers are dejected and disappointed. Numbers and figures of deficit hold no value to them. Aparently, the price of gold has also plumetted because farmers aren’t able to buy gold this season – they’re the 2/3 of the market, and gold acts as an alternative to the barely existent formal banking system in rural India.

The drought headlines would slowly sandwich between murder mysteries and film stars. Of course, there’s no glamour there. This is a part of our existence that we don’t wish to face, just like that ugly corner of our room that we cover with a dirty cloth so we could no longer feel guilty. But we know, it’s there, and a lot of it is not natural. It’s happening because we are letting it happen, because we’re consciously looking away. It’s happening because we, probably, don’t care about that part anymore.

It’s no longer only about water, but also about the souls.


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