Patna, Sept. 18: Bihar’s honeymoon with double digit growth appears to be headed for a rocky phase with the government today declaring 33 of the state’s 38 districts as drought-hit.
The agriculture and allied sectors, which contribute around one-fifth (18.91 per cent) of Bihar’s gross state domestic product (GSDP), are staring at a lower growth rate for the second consecutive year. The overall growth rate of the state was a little over 12 per cent in the Eleventh Plan Period (2007-12).
The state revised its economic growth for 2012-13 to 14.48 per cent, five percentage points higher than what was initially forecast. In 2011-12, the GSDP growth was 10.65 per cent and in 2010-11, when the state was hit by drought, the economy grew by 13.67 per cent.
However, in the previous fiscal (2012-13), the agriculture and allied sectors — which include animal and fish resources — had witnessed 6.44 per cent growth, a sharp drop from the previous year. In 2011-12, the sector had grown at a rate of 16 per cent.
“With the impact of drought being felt across the state, one cannot rule out even a lower growth rate in this sector in comparison to the previous year,” a senior government official told The Telegraph on condition of anonymity.
The slowdown in these sectors would have widespread impact in a state like Bihar. More than 85 per cent of the state’s 10.38 crore population resides in rural areas. The majority of this population is still dependent on agriculture and allied sectors.
Taking into account the deficit rainfall, the state cabinet today declared 33 districts as drought-hit. The five districts that have been spared the tag are Arwal, Rohtas, Banka, Araria and Kishanganj.
Principal secretary, cabinet coordination, Brajesh Mehrotra and his disaster management counterpart Vyasji said the rainfall deficiency in these 33 districts is more than 20 per cent and hence the decision was taken to declare them drought-hit.
“From June 1 to September 11, against the average rainfall of 892.2mm, 668.6mm rainfall has been recorded in these districts with a deficit of around 25 per cent. The monsoon, against the normal 40-45 days, has lasted only for 15 days till now,” said Mehrotra.
Sources said that owing to erratic and deficient rainfall, the underground water table is set to go down. This could have an adverse impact on agriculture production and even meeting the water requirements for drinking and agricultural use in rural areas.
Nitish Kumar, a farmer from Nalanda district who created a world record in potato production (729 quintals per hectare) last year, explained the problems being faced by the agro sector. “This year, the rainfall has been low and this has affected paddy cultivation. The paddy fields didn’t have 5 to 10cm water during monsoon,” he said. “Paddy crops are dying and farmers are struggling to save them.”
Another farmer from Samastipur, Sudhanshu Kumar, agreed. “We have never seen such a situation in the last one decade. Paddy production is going to come down by more than 50 per cent in the district, while on the other hand, farmers in major parts of Samastipur have not gone for maize cultivation due to deficit rainfall.”
However, the biggest challenge is the depleting water table — if there is not enough rainfall during the retreating monsoon period (first fortnight of October), there will be serious water problems in rural areas by next summer.
In 2010, Bihar faced a similar situation when the entire state (38 districts) was declared drought-hit.
Economists feel that a drop in agriculture production is going to affect the overall growth rate of the state. N.K. Chaudhary, a senior economics teacher at Patna University, said: “The deficient rainfall coupled with delay in taking initiatives are indicators that this year the agriculture growth rate will be negative. This will adversely affect the overall growth rate.”
The government appears determined to meet the challenge. Principal secretary Vyasji said: “The government would provide assistance to farmers under the state disaster response corpus and central disaster response corpus with immediate effect.”