SPE­CIAL COV­ER­AGE ON DROUGHT: South In­dia, which re­ceives two mon­soons a year, faces the worst drought in over a cen­tury. Is this cli­mate change? Or, just plain mis­man­age­ment?

South In­dia reels from the worst drought in over a cen­tury. SHREESHAN VENKATESH trav­els to Tamil Nadu, AYE­SHA MINHAZ to Andhra Pradesh, K JAYALAKSHMI to Kar­nataka and SATISH SURYAN to Ker­ala to un­der­stand why the states suf­fer de­spite two mon­soons a year

Down to Earth - - FRONT PAGE -

AN UN­PRECE­DENTED emer­gency-like sit­u­a­tion is un­fold­ing in south­ern In­dia. Large parts of the penin­sula that re­ceive two mon­soons a year face a se­vere wa­ter scarcity for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive crop­ping sea­son. In fact, for the first time in 140 years, all the five states have re­ceived large deficit rains (4077 per cent) dur­ing the win­ter mon­soon, which con­trib­utes 30-80 per cent of the to­tal rain­fall the re­gion re­ceives in a year. Ex­cept Te­lan­gana, gov­ern­ments of the re­main­ing states—Ker­ala, Tamil Nadu, Kar­nataka and Andhra Pradesh—have de­clared 68 of their 89 dis­tricts drought-hit.

These dis­tricts are home to 165 mil­lion peo­ple and are known for river basins and deltas that con­trib­ute 20 per cent of the rice pro­duced in the coun­try. Me­dia re­ports say 1,600 farm­ers have com­mit­ted sui­cide dur­ing Jan­uary-Oc­to­ber 2016 in Te­lan­gana and Kar­nataka, reel­ing from drought since 2014. In Tamil Nadu, drought has forced 270 farm­ers to take their lives since Oc­to­ber 2016. Nearly 60 farm­ers com­mit­ted sui­cide be­tween August 2015 and April 2016 in Andhra Pradesh’s Anan­ta­pur district alone, says non-profit Rythu Swara­jya Vedika. The lat­est re­port of the Na­tional Crime Records Bureau shows that 29,593 farm­ers and agri­cul­tural labour­ers from South In­dia have com­mit­ted sui­cide be­tween 2010 and 2015.

Ker­ala, the first state to be hit by mon­soon winds and to re­ceive a hu­mon­gous 3,000 mm of rain on a nor­mal year, faces the worst drought in a cen­tury. In the past six months, the state has been de­clared drought -hit twice—first in Oc­to­ber last year af­ter the south­west mon­soon, which ar­rives by June and lasts till Septem­ber, fell short by 34 per cent, and then in early April this year, af­ter the northeast mon­soon, which starts from mid-Oc­to­ber and ends around De­cem­ber, recorded 62 per cent deficit rain­fall.

Its neigh­bour Tamil Nadu, which on an av­er­age re­ceives 1,000 mm of rains a year, suf­fers the most se­vere drought in 150 years. Kar­nataka faces its worst drought in over 50 years. The story is not much dif­fer­ent for Andhra Pradesh. The state’s Ray­alaseema re­gion, a cru­cible of drought for a long time, stares at its worst wa­ter scarcity. Ma­jor parts peren­ni­ally wa­ter-scarce Te­lan­gana heaved a sigh of re­lief af­ter it re­ceived rains last summer. But dis­tricts such as Adilabad and Karim­na­gar con­tinue to re­main parched.

A rapid as­sess­ment by the In­ter­na­tional Wa­ter Man­age­ment In­sti­tute shows that the drought has af­fected nearly 5.5 mil­lion hec-

tares (ha) in Andhra Pradesh, Kar­nataka and Tamil Nadu. In Ker­ala, claims the state min­is­ter for agriculture, 30,000 ha are ly­ing un­sown. The 31 reser­voirs mon­i­tored by the Cen­tral Wa­ter Com­mis­sion in the re­gion hold 11 per cent of their storage ca­pac­ity. In Tamil Nadu, wa­ter level in four reser­voirs has dipped be­low the min­i­mum draw­down level (mddl), be­low which aquatic life can­not sur­vive. Sri­sailam reser­voir in Andhra Pradesh was close to reach­ing mddl in mid-April. The Kr­ishna and Cau­very rivers, the life­lines of the re­gion, are flow­ing 70 per cent be­low the nor­mal level (see ‘Wish it rains’, p39).

Small won­der, peo­ple as well as gov­ern­ments are now re­sort­ing to des­per­ate mea­sures.

Tamil Nadu chases shad­ows

For the past five months, farm­ers in the state have been fran­ti­cally up­root­ing a wa­ter-guz­zling in­va­sive shrub, Prosop­sis juliflora. “Up­root­ing the weed is not easy. The thorns are just the be­gin­ning. The roots go very deep and the wood is hard and strong. Some­times even burn­ing the tree does not help get rid of it,” says D Kad­hi­rala­gan, farmer from Than­javur district, part of the Cau­very delta, which faces crop fail­ure for the third con­sec­u­tive sea­son. In De­cem­ber 2016, the Madu­rai bench of the Madras High Court di­rected up­root­ing of the weed from across the state, while hear­ing a pub­licin­ter­est pe­ti­tion that claimed that the city’s ground­wa­ter table is fast re­ced­ing due to the per­va­sive­ness of the weed. The govern­ment had since is­sued di­rec­tives for the re­moval of all Prosop­sis plants on pri­vate prop­er­ties and has hired work­ers to do the same on govern­ment land un­til in the last week of April the Madras High Court stayed the or­der, ques­tion­ing its sci­en­tific va­lid­ity.

On April 21, Tamil Nadu min­is­ter for co­op­er­a­tives Sel­lur K Raju in­au­gu­rated a bizarre ex­per­i­ment of float­ing ther­mo­col sheets worth `10 lakh on the Vai gai reser­voir to pre­vent evap­o­ra­tion losses. As ex­pected, the ex­per­i­ment was foiled by wind and wa­ter flows. Fail­ure of the scheme not­with­stand­ing, the in­tent is ev­i­dent and the des­per­a­tion is pal­pa­ble, par­tic­u­larly in the Cau­very delta, the rice bowl of Tamil Nadu.

For over a month now, farm­ers from the delta have been stag­ing protests 2,500 km away at Jan­tar Man­tar in Delhi. Usu­ally bright green with paddy saplings at this time of the year, villages in Than­javur are all dry and bar­ren be­cause of mon­soon fail­ures and Kar­nataka’s re­fusal to re­lease Cau­very wa­ters cit­ing its own deficits. “The crop we har­vested in March had a yield of just 50 per cent be­cause it is too hot and dry for ger­mi­na­tion,” says S Vanaja, farmer from Na­gakudi vil­lage. Her neigh­bour, Mu­ruge­san, says she now grows crops on one-eighth of her 8 ha land be­cause of wa­ter scarcity. All the 40 farm ponds in her vil­lage have gone dry. To source wa­ter, Na­gakudi res­i­dents are now drilling borewells as deep as 60 me­tres. But they yield salty wa­ter, un­fit for con­sump­tion.

The sit­u­a­tion gets worse as one moves to­wards the coast, where drought seems to have be­come a chronic prob­lem. “We have been strug­gling with farm pro­duc­tiv­ity for five years,” says N Ra­jen­dran from Korukkai vil­lage. But this year they have failed to get a de­cent har­vest even from hardy crops like black gram. “I har­vested only 15 kg of black gram from my 0.8 ha farm, which should have ideally pro­duced 600 kg,” he says.

Ker­ala turns semi-arid

Fre­quent spot­ting of pea­cock is con­sid­ered omi­nous for Ker­ala, and rightly so. This summer, the bird, which is usu­ally found in dry, semi-arid ar­eas, in­vaded the nearly parched farm­lands of Kasaragod, Kan­nur, Malap­pu­ram, Palakkad and Thris­sur dis­tricts, dam­ag­ing the crops.

The ex­cess pre-mon­soon show­ers be­tween Fe­bru­ary and May have some­what mit­i­gated the im­pacts of the deficit in the last two mon­soon sea­sons, says S Sude­van, di­rec­tor, Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Cen­tre, Thiruvananthapuram. It will, how­ever, not be suf­fi­cient to tide over the wa­ter short­age be­ing felt across the state. “The drought is be­com­ing worse by the day,” ad­mits Shekhar Kuri­akose, mem­ber sec­re­tary, Ker­ala State Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Au­thor­ity. The wa­ter level in reser­voirs has hit an all-time low. “In most places, the reser­voirs have wa­ter that will last only for a cou­ple of weeks,” says A Shainamol, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the Ker­ala Wa­ter Au­thor­ity. In the last week of April, reser­voirs that sup­ply wa­ter to the cap­i­tal city of Thiruvananthapuram had enough to meet the city’s de­mands for just two weeks. Wa­ter short­age has also im­pacted power gen­er­a­tion. On April 19, reser­voirs un­der the Ker­ala State Elec­tric­ity Board were at 23 per cent of their storage ca­pac­ity, the low­est in four years.

An alarmed ad­min­is­tra­tion has swung into action. It has started mon­i­tor­ing and cap­ping wa­ter sup­plied to in­dus­tries and has im­posed a tem­po­rary ban on drilling new borewells in af­fected ar­eas. Since April, the Thiruvananthapuram au­thor­i­ties have capped do­mes­tic wa­ter sup­ply to two hours a day and are in­stalling wa­ter atms. The govern­ment has also kick­started the Haritha Ker­alam mis­sion to re­vive wa­ter bod­ies and pro­mote rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing.

"I doubt if there would be enough drink­ing wa­ter left for hu­mans, let alone an­i­mals. We might have to sell our cat­tle so that we can buy drink­ing wa­ter" ‹ 5 9LMD\DPDOD )DUPHU .DODSHUDPEXU YLOODJH 7DPLO 1DGX

Kar­nataka villages see mass ex­o­dus

It is dif­fi­cult to find young peo­ple in the villages of Kar­nataka. Bar­ring the old, the in­firm and the rich who can af­ford to in­stall deep borewells that can cost up to `6 lakh, all oth­ers have mi­grated to cities for work, mostly with tex­tile fac­to­ries and gar­ment units. Even wealthy farm­ers do not re­main im­mune from the im­pact of drought. In Amanaghatta vil­lage of Tumkur district, co­conut and areca nut farms look stressed, and the dry fronds tell their tale. “If it does not rain in the next two months, we are fin­ished,” says Gu­rulin­ganna, a wealthy farmer from the vil­lage. Once nour­ished by the He­ma­vathi, the big­gest tribu­tary of the Cau­very, the vil­lage to­day looks parched due to con­sec­u­tive mon­soon fail­ure and di­ver­sion of the He­ma­vathi wa­ter to Tamil Nadu.

Mean­while, some farm­ers in Melkote vil­lage of Dod­bal­la­pur district are in­no­vat­ing ways to tide over drought. Jagdish Chan­dra and his broth­ers have dug a wide pit on their 7.2 ha farm and lined it with a plas­tic sheet to col­lect what­ever lit­tle rain­wa­ter they re­ceive. They have also made trenches across their field for the rain­wa­ter to seep be­low. But those with small land­hold­ings have quit farm­ing and are relying on their cat­tle for a liv­ing. Even this turns out to be dif­fi­cult. A truck­load of fod­der, which used to cost `5,000, sells for `50,000 now, says Ume­sha from Adaka­mare­na­halli vil­lage. He sold both his cows last month.

Andhra wages a ‘war on drought’

The Ray­alseema re­gion of Andhra Pradesh, where the mon­soon has failed for the sixth con­sec­u­tive sea­son, has be­come so arid that it has be­gun re­sem­bling a desert. Coastal Andhra Pradesh is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing parched. The pre­vail­ing dis­tress can be gauged from the fact that only 1.95 mil­lion ha were un­der cul­ti­va­tion this rabi sea­son as against the tar­get of 2.7 mil­lion ha. The area un­der cul­ti­va­tion re­duced by 250,000 ha in 2016 kharif sea­son. To al­le­vi­ate the sit­u­a­tion, the govern­ment has launched a “war on drought” by de­ploy­ing 13,000 rain guns (mi­cro-ir­ri­ga­tion de­vice) and sprin­klers. But the govern­ment’s own estimates show that the ini­tia­tive has had lit­tle im­pact on the ground. For in­stance, adding sprin­klers and rain guns has en­sured ground­nut yield of 213 kg

from 0.4 ha against a nor­mal yield of 1,000 kg. This is wor­ry­ing be­cause the state govern­ment has al­ready pumped `280 crore into the ini­tia­tive.

The state govern­ment has also un­der­taken an am­bi­tious scheme to in­ter­link river basins in the state, which will cost `1 lakh crore to the state ex­che­quer, and plans to set up 20,000 check dams for ef­fec­tive ground­wa­ter recharge.

The nascent state of Te­lan­gana, which has been chron­i­cally drought-hit, bat­tled se­vere wa­ter scarcity be­tween 2014 and 2016. But the summer rains last year brought 20 per cent more rain­fall to the re­gion. This has re­vived the Go­davari river, which had for the first time in 50 years al­most com­pletely dried up. The river now flows above the nor­mal level. While farm­ers ex­pect a rel­a­tively good har­vest this rabi sea­son, the pos­si­bil­i­ties of a re­turn of se­vere drought-like con­di­tions are very real if the south­west mon­soon fails this year.

Worst is yet to come

On April 18, the In­dia Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal De­part­ment (imd) pre­dicted nor­mal south­west mon­soon rains for the coun­try. But it does not seem to have gen­er­ated much hope among the farm­ers of South In­dia who have borne the brunt of over­es­ti­mated imd fore­casts for the past two mon­soons.

Now that tem­per­a­tures have breached the 40oC mark in many parts of South In­dia, the re­gion stares at an­other wa­ter cri­sis. imd pre­dicts an “above nor­mal” summer for South In­dia this year. Sev­eral sea­sonal rivers and wells have been dry for months now. “The next cou­ple of months are go­ing to be very tough,” says Natara­jan, a res­i­dent of Tamil Nadu’s Na­gakudi vil­lage. The des­per­a­tion may add fuel to the sim­mer­ing con­flicts that four of the five states are em­broiled in.

The Cau­very dis­pute be­tween Kar­nataka and Tamil Nadu over shar­ing of wa­ter which reached fever pitch in the mid-2016 is likely to reach a boil if there is a de­lay in the on­set of the summer mon­soon. Tamil farm­ers blame the Cen­tral govern­ment of be­ing com­plicit in Kar­nataka’s re­fusal to re­lease Cau­very wa­ters de­spite or­ders from the court to share the de­fi­ciency in the flow of the river. Since June last year, Kar­nataka has re­leased only slightly more than a third of the 190 tmc ft (thou­sand mil­lion cu­bic feet) of wa­ter that it was sup­posed to re­lease ac­cord­ing to the wa­ter shar­ing for­mula.

“The Cen­tre has failed to en­force the man­date to share deficits of flow in the Cau­very be­tween states. If this is not re­solved soon, in time for the tra­di­tional wa­ter re­lease in June, there is no telling what could tran­spire,” warns P Mani­yarasan, con­venor of the Cau­very Rights Re­trieval Com­mit­tee, that has been protest­ing out­side the district col­lec­tor’s of­fice in Than­javur.

The Andhra Pradesh-Te­lan­gana fight over the Kr­ishna wa­ters is calm for the time be­ing. It would be fair to say the suc­cess­ful win­ter rains in parts of Te­lan­gana are partly to thank but a fail­ure of the summer mon­soon could be a trig­ger for a re­sump­tion of the paused con­flict.

"My wife com­mit­ted sui­cide nine months ago af­ter 500 lime trees on my farm dried up. I also at­tempted sui­cide but was saved by my neigh­bours" ‹ 6ULQLYDVXOX 1DLGX )DUPHU 3HGGD 0DOOHSDOOL YLOODJH $QGKUD 3UDGHVK

Of late, farm­ers in the Cau­very delta have been grow­ing black gram along with paddy to re­duce their de­pen­dence on wa­ter. But this year even the hardy black gram has failed to deliver

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