The PM patted his own back for meeting the CMs of drought affected states. What he did not mention that the CMs were given much less than what they needed and asked for from the National Disaster Response Fund, that too after considerable delays. The MNREGA too is starved of funds by the central government.
Editor’s note: Swaraj Abhiyan founder Yogendra Yadav is on a ten-day padyatra of drought affected regions of Marathwada in Maharashtra. He will file dispatches for Firstpost during his march. This is the first of the series.
It must have been the heat. Or else, why would I react so to the perfectly sane and sage advice from our own prime minister? Why would I find his address insufferable, obscene and pompous?
After all, he was talking about the drought, something that I want to hear about. He was advocating drought proofing, not wasting a drop of water, more crop per drop – things that I often talk about. Why this hot-headed reaction then?
I was trying to catch an afternoon nap under the shifting sun-shade of a mango tree in the rural hinterland of drought-affected Latur. It was the second day of our Jal-Hal padyatra. We had walked for about 15 kilometres in the forenoon, much more than we had anticipated.
That is when a colleague alerted me to the agency report about the prime minister’s Mann Ki Baat. I scanned through the report, was annoyed, asked for a full copy, was furious and surprised at the intensity of my reaction. Was it just the heat? Or my proximity to the unfolding tragedy?
Maybe. But consider another thought. Obscenity usually does not lie in words. It often lies in the context in which an otherwise harmless word is spoken. If a columnist or a professor has expressed these sentiments, it could be excusable, perhaps even welcome.
But when the man tasked with responding to a disaster takes to musing right in the middle of a crisis, something is out of place. And when he uses these sagely utterances to cover up his own inaction and for thinly disguised self-promotion, perhaps there is something obscene here.
A simple fact check might help.
The prime minister patted his own back for meeting all the CMs of drought affected states separately, not in a group as may have been done in the past. What he did not mention is what the CMs asked for and what he has done about it.
Fact is that state governments have been asking for money from the National Disaster Response Fund. They were given much less than what they needed and asked for, that too after considerable delays. Uttar Pradesh, for example, got its funds after the end of the financial year.
Ever since the yatra began, we have been listening to the woes of the poor, agricultural labour. They are desperate for jobs. The construction work they can get is very infrequent. Farm work is not available now.
In any case, women get just Rs 100 per day. They all want MNREGA work that pays Rs 191. The trouble is that MNREGA is starved of funds by the central government. The situation is much worse in Maharashtra, where the entire scheme has been captured by the rural-landed class. The prime minister chose to applaud Maharashtra for its drought management.
He also patted (who else?) the Gujarat government for the use of technology in combating the drought. The fact is that the Supreme Court indicted the government of Gujarat more than once for following antiquated, colonial practices ofannawari and for failing to use modern indices and remote sensing data.
Modi spoke of preventing water wastage. Who can possibly disagree with that? But it is one thing to talk about petty wastage, quite another to take on water misuse, diversion built into our models of growth.
Next to the mango tree, there was a private tanker filling up water from one of the few functional wells. Just two weeks ago, P Sainath had shown us slides of advertisements for residential complexes with swimming pool on each floor! I was waiting for the PM to talk about such matters or about the massive diversion of water from agriculture to industry and cities.
He did not.
Moral of the story: Switch on your AC before you switch on the next Mann ki Baat!
The author is co-founder of Swaraj Abhiyan and the national convener of Jai Kisan Andolan
Part 2: There’s water everywhere in Latur, but not a drop of it’s free
Yogendra Yadav, Firstpost.com
Water is present everywhere in Latur. This invisible drought has made water visible in a disturbing way. It has also made water lucrative. Farmers who have had no crop have turned to renting out their wells to private players. Local industry and bottling plants are willing to pay higher rates. If their well is acquired by the government, they get rent and make some extra earnings by allowing private diversions at night. Those who have can manage to spare a little capital have invested in a RO plant, and have started their own brand of water.
What A Water Situation!
India, already severely water-stressed in a warming globe, is in the midst of a water-crisis which is predicted to repeat itself. We have entered the era of the consequences of thoughtless supply-side management practices. The urgent need is for socially sensitive, economically viable demand-side water management. Failing to build democratic and effective water management structures for democratic governance processes will risk violent social situations due to water conflicts. Political leaders in the States and the Centre need to come out of their “Nero-fiddling” role and firmly steer a course away from impending chaos and disaster. The way forward is local water conservation and management.