Another Year, Another Drought: Comments on Indian Irrigation and Agriculture


To be sure, a drought is declared when rainfall for the entire monsoon season is deficient by 10% and the area affected covers 20-40% of the area of the country. With a rainfall deficiency of about 25% in most parts of the country, the technical definition of drought is amply met. India is now drought stricken even if its government doesn’t have, either the courage or the care to admit it. It is important to note that there is no acceptable definition of drought in India.


Irrigation commission in 1973 made an attempt to define drought as -25% deficiency compared to normal. But what is normal is the long-term average which may or may not change. Secondly, this -25% deficiency is for the whole season.

Agriculture Scientists have Penmen method to determine moisture index of an area. ICRISAT in Hyderabad has done good work on this.

States should have moisture index for each Taluka or group of villages which can be used for declaration of drought by decentralizing the measurement of drought.


The management of drought is a State subject though there is no definite entry in the State list. Pith and substance of drought is considered as part of Agriculture, water supplies, food and rural development.

The role of Central Govt is reduced to handing down grants which is permissible under Art. 282 of the Constitution. Even here, Centre has not framed any policy. Decisions on grants are arbitrary and have assumed political overtones.


Punjab may be heading for its worst drought in almost three decades, fear authorities, after  the state’s meteorological department predicted a 60 per cent deficit in monsoon this year. The department has based its prediction on the progress of monsoon between June 1 and June 25.

According to a report sent by the meteorological department to the Punjab government, 17 of the state’s 22 districts will receive scanty rainfall this year. The deficient monsoon will worsen the already serious groundwater situation in Punjab.


The country is reeling under high inflation for past five years. The month of June was the driest in 113 years! The sight of tankers supplying drinking water to more than 12000 hamlets and bastis in Maharashtra has become routine. Farmer suicides continue to occur.

Total estimate of tax concessions given to corporate sector is Rs 5.6 lakh crore per year. Is this necessary? Can some of the stupid tax exemptions on gold and diamonds not be given to our farmers?

We can save more than 50,000 crores by stopping these exemptions which can create a buffer fund for our farmers.

The government has made no proper allocations to tackle the impending drought or planned to combat inflation due to the impending drought.

Immediately sell 20 mill tonnes from godowns of Food Corporation of India to create downward pressure on grain prices.

Remove perishables from APMC. The middlemen (dalals) enjoy near monopoly buying power over lakhs of farmers and also hold urban consumers to ransom. In the states, when the government tried to bring onion and potato out of APMC list, there was hue and cry from NCP and Congress in Maharashtra. This shows collusion between middlemen and politicians.


Sowing of the summer, or kharif, crop has been slowed due to the delay in the monsoon. Overall sowing is nearly 30% behind the normal trend at this point of time. On 24 July, an area of 53.3 million hectare was sown under different crops. This will further increase inflation in the coming months.

As per the Central Water Commission, the water storage in 85 important reservoirs stood at 40.0 billion cubic meters (bcm) as on July 17, 2014.  The storage in these 85 reservoirs is 26% of their storage capacity, against 43% last year and 30% average level during the last five years.  The decline in storage levels is acute in Southern India, followed by Western India and Central India.


A drought in India is no longer about a food shortage. The state has enough buffer stocks of cereals, edible oils and sugar to tide over a difficult year. The problem now is one of the collapse of purchasing power and with many millions unable to provide for themselves. The Modi government has so far shown no signs of being alive to the looming crisis. By now it should have drawn up plans for huge drought relief works. This is the time to build and repair roads, canals and other infrastructure so that millions can be gainfully engaged.

The signs of a purchasing power drought are now increasingly visible all over with increased rural migrations. Only the government cannot seem to see this.

While people can migrate; livestock cannot. A drought exacts a huge toll on livestock. Millions will perish without water. Strangely enough for a government by a party so visibly in favor of gau seva the Modi government is almost entirely inert.

The antidote to this is for the state to embark on huge civil works to restore purchasing power in the rural areas. If people can’t buy food it is a man-made famine.

Note: This short note was prepared at an hour’s notice using research, first-hand data from the Government of India’s Meteorological and Agricultural Department, a policy note from PRS Legislative Research and most importantly taking large sections from Shri Mohan Guruswamy’s note on the drought.

2 thoughts on “Another Year, Another Drought: Comments on Indian Irrigation and Agriculture

  1. I think we would both probably agree that political wonkery should go beyond stating how the other side is bungling their job.

    Maybe you could also tell us about the constraints the government might have, and thus make your opinions hold more weight, instead of seeming more like political dishing out.

    Yes, you are a part of the AAP movement, and you might say that defending itself is the central government’s job. And you would be right. It’s just that I, at least, expect a more thoughtful article from a man of such wonderful academic background 🙂


    • Jeev,
      I just wanted to put whatever information I’m feeding to the MPs in raw form, without delay. In 3 minutes, criticism is all we have time for 🙂 I’ll probably write a longer form article(with the constraints and possible solutions) when I get the time. That is in limited supply as of now. Thanks for your feedback. I appreciate it!


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