The Janata Dal (United) had dumped its alliance partner not too long ago in Bihar. Now it is the turn of the rain gods to desert the Bihar chief minister. The state government has declared 33 of Biharís 38 districts to be drought-hit after they received less than 20 per cent of the normal rainfall. The severity of the dry spell ó some have compared it to the devastating drought of 1966 ó is expected to have an adverse impact on agricultural production as well as on ecology. The sowing of paddy and animal husbandry are likely to bear the brunt of the erratic monsoon. This, in turn, would threaten the livelihood of a large section of the population that makes a living as cultivators. Ground water levels have also been reported to have depleted at an alarming rate in several of the districts. The enormity of the crisis notwithstanding, the governmentís response in tackling the deteriorating situation can be best described as tardy. The authorities waited for far too long before declaring that the affected districts are drought-hit. Taking cognizance of the weak monsoon, the Opposition parties had been demanding such a step much earlier. More worryingly, Biharís reliance on the monsoon to grow crops reiterates the sad fact that the state is yet to develop adequate measures to bring water to its fields. There is thus an urgent need to develop a comprehensive irrigation system to diminish farmersí reliance on the fickle-minded rain gods. It is also evident that the government has failed to encourage agriculturalists to take up alternative and effective techniques such as drip irrigation to conserve water.
The crisis, more precisely the fear of losing the votes of drought-affected farmers, has forced the chief minister, Nitish Kumar, to rush to the capital and demand Central assistance to the tune of Rs 12,000 crore. His government has also announced, albeit belatedly, a slew of other welfare measures. They include deferring the collection of land rent, electricity charges and cooperative loans from farmers. Steps have also been announced to generate other avenues of employment for the rural population. But past experiences have shown that these measures may well remain on paper. The need to chalk out an effective strategy to ensure that grants ó those from the Centre or the state ó are spent judiciously to implement welfare measures that benefit farmers continues to escape the governmentís attention.