Anantapur reels under drought

The drought sweeping across Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh has had an unpleasant outcome with 223 debt-ridden farmers committing suicide in the last two years. Not much has been done by the administration to salvage the situation in this semi-arid water scarce district that got just 284 mm rainfall. Its sloppy approach on drought relief even after the official declaration of drought in the district in November 2016 is for all to see. A civil society fact-finding team did a rapid assessment of the situation of drought as well the various citizen entitlements in the context of drought here. The joint team of Andhra Pradesh Rythu Swarajya Vedika, Human Rights Forum, Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangam and Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture visited seven villages in various mandals of Anantapur from May 6-7, 2017.

The report suggests that more than 40 percent of the agricultural borewells in the district had run out of water by April 2017 as the groundwater levels have fallen to 70-90 meters at many places. The number of milch and draught animals in the district has declined by 50 percent because of fodder shortages. Locals are facing water scarcity and at least 4.87 lakh people are estimated to have migrated out of the district.

The team found that despite repeated droughts in Anantapur “the district administration was highly unprepared in terms of its institutional and programmatic response to the crisis that unfolds regularly. Paucity of funds at the disposal of the district administration is also an important cause for this. However, this cannot be the excuse for all the violations of citizen’s basic entitlements in the case of drought that the fact-finding team witnessed,” the report says. No effort was made by the government to pro-actively publicise the entitlements available to drought-hit citizens.

“The support mechanisms and services that were assessed for their existence and implementation by this fact-finding team are not charity from the state, but are statutory entitlements of citizens as encapsulated in the Drought Manual, the National Disaster  Management Act 2005, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005,  National Food Security Act 2013, and as ordered by the Supreme Court in Writ Petition (Civil) No. 857/2015 (popularly referred to as Swaraj Abhiyan PIL on Drought),” the report clarifies.

“Except for the running of the public distribution system to a reasonable extent within some design and implementation related constraints, citizen entitlements around all other aspects related to people’s lives and livelihoods are being violated at this point of time,” the report points out.

Wavering farm output due to repeated droughts and severe hydrological stress has heightened the need for NREGA employment. Anantapur should be considered as a special case, and not treated at par with drought in other parts of the country. Here, even the 150 days of employment guaranteed under NREGA is inadequate, and requires the scheme to be re-designed to guarantee at least 250 days. The district has massive pending wage payments and these delays are acting as a deterrent for seeking employment under NREGA. People are not aware of their entitlements under NREGA and are migrating out. “Yield based crop insurance products need drastic re-designing. Relief measures like crop loan rescheduling with one year moratorium are not adequate, given that successive years of drought are a reality here,” the report says.

Immediate demands

  • Immediate publicity should be given to all citizen entitlements in a drought situation, so that monitoring of implementation can be proactively taken up by citizens themselves.
  • The district administration has to immediately map out, and ensure supply of potable drinking water to all villages/habitations which are facing acute water shortage.
  • All arrears of wage payments in NREGS have to be paid immediately with compensation to all workers.
  • NREGS demand for work has to be taken from all villages and a basket of work proposals sanctioned by the administration, as chosen by the workers.
  • All input subsidy (2015-16 and 2016-17) due to cultivators have to be paid immediately, at least by the end of May 2017, after identifying the real cultivators. Input subsidy norms have to be revised to cover at least the scale of finance for a crop.
  • Government has to ensure that the private insurer who is responsible to pay crop insurance for 2016 settles the claims immediately, by the end of May 2017.
  • Banks have to be instructed not to use any coercive methods with loanees. Gold loan auctions have to be suspended immediately.
  • Crop loan rescheduling timeline has to be extended and wide publicity given to this option, so that farmers may exercise informed choice about this relief measure. In all such re-scheduling cases, state government has to provide interest subvention to a substantial extent. Fresh loans for the upcoming kharif season have to be extended to all desirous cultivators.
  • Gratuitous relief has to be extended immediately to all deserving cases as under the NDRF/SDRF norms.
  • Mobile health clinics have to be arranged to visit remote villages regularly as part of relief measures.
  • Inquiry, sanction and release of ex-gratia amount to farm suicide victims have to be taken up immediately.
  • Ex-gratia relief or compensation to be paid to surviving families of all sunstroke deaths.
  • PDS food supplies have to be universalised and instructions have to be issued to all PDS dealers immediately, based on the Supreme Court Orders. Biometric authentication (or lack of it) cannot come in the way of this entitlement, and the administration has to institute mechanisms for overcoming this constraint in some cases. Civil Supplies department has to ensure that buffer stocks are sent to all dealers for this purpose. Mid-day meal scheme has to be served as hot cooked meals.
  • Take up market intervention for ensuring remunerative prices to certain horticulture crops where after severe crop losses due to drought, farmers are now facing market adversities too. Also take up protective irrigation for horticulture plantations of all species on a much larger scale.
  • “Project Anantha” recommendations should be implemented.

Image courtesy: Aasif Iqbal J, Flickr Commons (License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

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