Nature’s Cycles and Manmade Cycles
Rains have a habit of failing now and then. Monsoons sometimes play truant. But over a couple of years, Mother Nature usually pulls up these truant forces and normalcy descends very soon.
India that is largely dependent on its annual monsoon for its water and food does face difficulties during these trying periods but has never gone into major droughts or famines because of failed monsoons alone.
Hand of man is evident in creating these droughts and famine.
The noted senior journalist of The Hindu, P.Sainath, who was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for his journalism, in his book “Everyone Loves a Good Drought”, cites through examples witnessed personally, how most of the relief work, their planning and execution actually are contradictory to the real situation on ground, the real needs and sustainable living.
His book brings out how it is the agencies, Governmental and Non Governmental, which finally end up profiting from relief work. Infact the very existence of these agencies is dependent upon such relief work.
Inadvertently all these ill planned and unsustainable measures taken as part of relief work, instead of dousing the problems, fuel and keep alive the cycle of droughts.
But manmade droughts and resultant famines do not seem to be a phenomenon of Independent India alone.
The Dreaded Famines of India
When India was under the British administration, famines were a repeated and regular occurrence. Famines became endemic in the 1800s under British rule of India. Famines were never widespread before British came to India.
William Digby, an economist and Member of Famine Commission under the British, records in 1901, the number of deaths in India due to famine in the hundred years between 1800 and 1900.
|1800 – 1825||10,000|
|1826 – 1850||5,00,000|
|1851 – 1875||5,00,000|
|1876 – 1900||2,60,00,000|
How did these famines come to be in the first place?
Mike Davis, the economic historian has recorded the cause of these famines as an outcome of British policy. In his book “Late Victorian Holocaust” he highlights with details how there were 18 famines in the 24 years between 1876 to 1900 and how 29 Million Indians perished in these famines. He calls it a murder by the British state policy.
These years were witness to the great famines of Bihar, Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Central India and many other parts of India. The numbers of people who were starved to death by these manmade famines, year after year, region after region, running into lakhs, is just too revolting.
An illustration in a London Newspaper of the famine conditions in India
Hand of Man in Creating Droughts and Famines
If we pit the Industrial Revolution of Britain and Europe against the colonial plunder of India, we will be able to see the larger picture of the economic evolution of Europe and the degeneration of India to its present state.
In the latter half of 1800s, Britain and Europe were caught in the flurry of the industrial revolution. Apart from the large infusion of money, which they got from plundering their colonies, what they needed was large amounts of food to be imported into England to feed their workforce.
They used the wheat fields of North India as their bread basket and forcibly exported the food grains produced in India, to Europe, to feed the industrialization, thus creating a famine among the very people who grew these abundance of food grains.
In a similar situation now, it is this land and the people of India that are generating the wealth but instead of pumping it back to sustain the irrigation projects which in turn can keep agriculture sustained, scam after scam have been siphoning out large amounts of money from India. No great surprise then is the present looming drought in most parts of the country.
For example in Maharashtra in the last couple of years, Rs.70000 crores have vapourised in the name of expenditure on irrigation projects but the increase in the irrigation capability of Maharashtra rose by just 0.1 % only. This figure shows us the stark reality of the scale of this scam.
As Action, So Reaction
For every action there is a reaction. If action is good so will be the reaction. There was a time when waters were revered as Punya Theertha. With all the callous handling of the various water bodies and indifference to rain water harnessing in the last few decades, the reaction as a drought is following on only too quickly, accelerated by corruption.
Use of excess of chemical fertilizers on the soil too has added to the woes. Chemical fertilizers make the soil thirsty. The soil becomes parched much quicker. On one side we don’t harness waters and on the other side we employ unsustainable techniques which increase the thirst of the soil. It is a double whammy for the hapless farmer.
Yet another blow to the hapless farmer is when, for the pecuniary interests of a few, he is induced to cultivate crops that are not naturally suited for the topographical conditions of that land. For example, growing water intensive crops such as sugarcane in rain shadow areas such as the leeward side of the western ghats. This also puts more strain on the limited water resources available.
If you care to notice, soon after Independence, because of benevolent Government policies and sincere implementation of the same in the early days of Independent India, famines ceased.
Droughts are once again rearing their head, for the policies are not oriented towards sustainable living and moreover there is one scam after another in implementing them. It will be inevitable for famines too, to follow soon.
It is this precise fact that we have brought out in our book “You Turn India”.
The current drought in Maharashtra does not come as a surprise. Neither is this going to be the last one.
Let us look at droughts.
Rains and Droughts
It is well known that despite the 4 months of monsoon in India, it actually rains for only about 100 hours in a year.
But during these 100 hours, it rains enough to make India rank as the second largest rainfall receiving country in the world in proportion to its area.
Monsoon rains by nature have a cyclical vagary over a 7 to 10 year period. So by nature, we need to expect floods for a couple of years and deficient rainfall for another couple of years in a decade.
It is these small, local but innumerable water harnessing systems that are the balancing factor to harness the rain when it pours in excess and to be used in the times of deficiency.
Hence these water harnessing systems have to be maintained in good condition at all times to have good times.
But does this maintenance need Rs.70000 crores as was spent by the Maharashtra Government?
Cost of a Drought Vs Cost of Averting a Drought
India was dotted with traditionally designed water harnessing systems suited to the local topography, climate and population needs.
In the 6 lakh villages of India, close to 9 lakh such traditional, local water harnessing systems were implemented. This means an average of 3 such water bodies for every 2 villages.
These water harnessing works were traditionally carried out by the locals themselves and the cost defrayed by the locals themselves again.
What has not been accomplished by this Rs.70000 crores could have been accomplished with a fraction of this amount if the local water bodies had been continued to be maintained by the locals instead of a centralized body
Just a couple of years ago there were very heavy rains in the same Maharashtra leading to floods both in the Narmada river flowing west and the Godavari river flowing east. What happened to all those waters?
If we had harnessed them then, would it not have come in handy now?
So, a drought really occurs not due to a failed monsoon but due to our failure to harness the rain when it rains, where it rains.
Let us take this Maharashtra drought as a reality check to open our eyes to the reality of droughts, famines, scams and the hand of man in creating all of these. Atleast now, let us initiate steps to adopt the time tested water harnessing principles designed by our forefathers that had kept this land fertile and prosperous during their times and until recent times.
It is for us now to realize and act as each individual as well as in unison, for history to not repeat itself, since droughts and famines are manmade and relief works benefit more the Governmental and Non Governmental agencies.
In the end it is the common man who bears the brunt of ill framed policies and non implementation of wholistic relief measures.
The sufferers are the people to whom this land belongs, to whom these water bodies belong, in whose name the policies are made, for alleviation of whose woes the relief measures are meant and finally for whom these rains actually come.
There is a popular saying in the land that even if there is one good soul in a land, the rains will come for all.
Is there not even one such good soul in this land today?
Even if there is one and it rains for all, what is the use if it is not harnessed?
It is time now to seize this opportunity and volunteer for a better India – “You Turn India”.
More information on water harnessing and its role in the prosperity of India during the past as well as in future, is available in our book, “You Turn India”, a part of the Bharath Gyan Series.