The spectre of drought is sought to be kept alive by states to corner central relief funds though most parts of the country have by now experienced rains. The only areas left uncovered by the monsoon are the Thar desert in western Rajasthan and a few pockets in Haryana.
Yet, the central aid of nearly Rs 20,000 crore, besides 11 million tonnes of free foodgrains, has been demanded by the states in the name of drought though hardly any drought-relief operation has been launched by them.
Interestingly, the demand for funds and foodgrains has been communicated to the Centre, pending even a formal assessment in most states of the damage caused by the truant monsoon in July.
While Orissa, where 30 districts have been claimed to be drought-hit, has sought Rs 500 crore, Rajasthan with 32 affected districts has demanded over Rs 6,100 crore. Fortunately (for the farmers and not so much the state governments), good showers have occurred in Orissa and east Rajasthan in the past two weeks.
Chhattisgarh still has all the 16 districts on the drought-hit list to claim over Rs 2,100 crore from the Centre though the rainfall situation has improved perceptibly in almost the entire state.
Uttaranchal is suffering from excessive rainfall and has been ravaged even by a cloud burst. But it is claiming Rs 400 crore for drought and not, oddly enough, for flood relief.
To top it all, Madhya Pradesh has not communicated to the Centre any particular area as being drought-hit, but it has sought nearly Rs 700 crore and 250,000 tonnes of foodgrains as drought relief. Similar is the case of Tamil Nadu which has staked a claim of Rs 720 crore and 200,000 tonnes of grains without even identifying the problem areas.
In contrast, Haryana and West Bengal, among others, have not communicated any need for cash relief though there are problem areas in both. Haryana, in particular, had continued to be among the worst-affected regions till the second week of August. However, nearly 70 per cent of the area has irrigation facilities.
All this is happening despite agriculture experts being unanimous that it is premature to assess the damage due to the erratic monsoon. Though they do not rule out a tangible drop in agricultural production, as the whole of July was virtually rainless in most parts of the country, it is impossible to even vaguely estimate the extent of the output fall because the crop sowing is not complete.
In any case, the performance of the monsoon in the remaining two months of the four-month rainy season is as crucial as in the first half. It can yet make, as also further mar, the production prospects.
This apart, the experts point out the impact of the drought, when the affected population needs government intervention in providing food, fodder, drinking water and employment, is felt in the post-monsoon phase. That is the time when, in the case of a monsoon failure, the sources of these essential items start drying up.
The money doled out by the Centre at this stage can only improve the fiscal health of the state governments and not that of the farmers or the farm labour. What the victims of the monsoon