Drought take place as a result of failure of rains or inadequate rains. Although India is placed very favorably so far as rainfall is concerned; there being two monsoons in a year in summer and winter, vast areas in the country remains almost perpetually rain deficit. According to a survey there are 72 district in the country which suffer from scarcity of rain: The tracts that fall under this category are in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Besides the regions facing recurrent droughts, the entire country is prone to rain deficient conditions in varying degrees from year-to-year. It has been observed that states such as West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh which generally receive good rainfall, may face drought conditions every 4th, 5th, 6th, or 7th year. Other states may also be hit by adverse effects of rain failure.
Severe scarcity conditions amounting to drought have occurred and reoccurred during Mughal period, British period and also during post-independence era. Bengal famine of 1770 and the Deccan famine of 1889-90 are known to all. In the post-independence era inadequate precipitation created acute scarcity conditions in 1965-67,1972-73,1979-80,1982-83,1985-86 and even 1986-97. The intensity of the drought during these years was suffered by a large number of persons living in different parts of the country. Thus it is evident that recurrence of droughts in some or other parts of our country is almost a normal feature.
As scarcity conditions prevail, Governments at States and Centre express grave concern over the misery of the drought afflicted people. Government machinery is geared up to face the challenge. Central terms visit the areas, grants are released and relief works are undertaken. Vigorous efforts are made to supply food, maintain drinking water supply and also to provide fodder to the cattle in the areas under the clutches of drought. Hundreds of crores of rupees are spent on schemes under drought reliefs causing great strain on exchequer.
The failure of summer monsoon in 1987 brought the country under the severe grip of unprecedented drought. Giving the total picture of the drought Union Agricultural Minister Mr. G.S. Dhillon said in Lok Sabha on August 17, 1987 that out of 407 districts in the country, only 145 had normal rainfall, 110 districts has deficient rainfall and 152 districts had scanty or no rainfall. As 58 per cent of the food crops and 54 per cent of the oil-seeds production was during kharif season, when the normal production should be 83 million tonnes, the damage the drought would cause could be imagined. Apart from paddy, the kharif crops effected were jowar, pulses, bajra, soyabeen and groundnut. He further said that if the rains did not come in the next few days, the picture would be very disappointing.
According to unofficial sources out of 35 meteorological zones of India, only in 10 zones there was more or less normal rainfall. All the 47 major reservoirs in the country had less water than last year by at least were 3 0 per cent. Nearly 280 districts were effected by drought which was likely to be of such magnitude that might have long-term adverse effect on the entire national economy.
Everybody admitted that the situation was desperate and called for united action on behalf of all Indians. Failure of monsoon led to the problems of no water, no power, no crop, no food, no fodder. The country was faced with a calamity. Though the famine did not loom large due to buffer stocks of food grains for human consumption, the spectra of scarcity of fodder haunted the livestock. The drought and resultant hardship to human beings and cattle was regrettable with highly developed technology in irrigation and water management available to the country from its own resources.
With the low level of water in the reservoirs, which generate hydro-electricity, the fall in production of power was substantial affecting both agriculture and industry. Tanks, canals, wells and tube well had gone dry. Water level had gone down. In many areas tube well did not exist. In others where they did they did not function either due to power scarcity or mechanical failure. As a result of it there was acute shortage of drinking water. There was apprehension of cattle perishing by their thousands in vulnerable areas since migration to more favorable areas in almost ruled out. The situation led to reduction in milk yield. There was shortage of fodder and hence distress sale of animals. The situation was certainly alarming.
The main factors responsible for such widespread chronic scarcity conditions are: (i) major distortions in the rainfall patterns, (ii) indiscriminate cutting of trees and large scale deforestation, (iii) massive soil-erosion.
To meet the challenge—(i) adequate supply of drinking water and fodder ensured; (ii) relief works started; (iii) imports of non-essentials stopped; (iv) public distribution system streamlined and continuously monitored.
An action plan must be formulated to save deaths due to starvation. United and concerted efforts should be made to protect and save industry, agriculture, farm labour, cattle and the country’s economy from total ruination.