Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Bihar- Once again facing the Nature’s wrath

Bihar, the state crippled by inefficiency in the past and always been battered with the nature’s fury, has been continuously fighting with natural calamities, either in the form of almost recurring floods, or droughts. All the 38 districts in Bihar have been declared drought hit on the auspicious day of Independence Day. And it is not only Bihar, which is at the receiving end, but the whole eastern India is facing the heat of the deficit rains and the subsequent steep production fall. In West Bengal and Jharkhand too, the scene is not changed and they have announced 11 out of 18 and 12 out of 24 districts as ensuing drought hit, respectively. On the other hand, we have witnessed flash floods in Northern India, Punjab, and Haryana mainly due to Sutlaj Canal Breach, which has severely affected the food production projections of the government for this year. The other parts of the country, viz. Southern and Western parts received a good and almost normal monsoon. But these incidences makes it clear that climate change is reflecting hard on the poor undeveloped state and its people, as not only Bihar, but more or less whole India, is acting as a major sink for the pollution and other aberratic phenomena caused by the major cities and other developed nations.

Bihar is facing a severe drought-like situation because of scanty rainfall. Right from 2007, the state has been suffering from natural calamities. In 2007, 22 districts were badly hit by floods that affected 25 million people. In 2008, the state had to face Kosi tragedy. Thereafter, in 2009, 26 out of 38 districts were affected by drought and in the current year, the whole state is facing acute drought condition. But this year, intensity of drought is much more than last year and by August, all the districts have been declared drought affected. During earlier years, floods were very common in large parts of the state due to fury of rivers, which created havoc for a majority of the people and livestock in the region, which inadvertently resulted in great irreparable loss of crop production and raised food security issues for the masses.

According to state estimates, around 15 million rural families are experiencing shortages of food, fodder, and drinking water. Low rainfall, so far, has hit paddy sowing and transplantation in Gaya, Aurangabad, Jehanabad, Arwal, Nawada, Patna, Rohtas, Kaimur, and Nalanda districts. Over a dozen districts in Magadh and Patna divisions are the worst hit. Last year, the government had declared 26 districts drought-hit. The 26 districts of Bihar that were declared drought hit in 2009 have registered a rainfall deficit of 41 per cent so far, as the monsoon has played truant despite metrological mandarins assuring enough rains in the second fortnight of June. The problem has been more acute in southern Bihar districts such as Gaya, Nawada, Nalanda, Jehanabad, and Aurangabad, where most farmers are yet to plant paddy seedlings. In some parts of these Maoist affected districts, the land has displayed cracks due to prolonged dryness. Bhojpur and Buxar are the worst-hit districts where rainfall deficiency has been estimated to be 86 per cent and 84 per cent, respectively.

The state received just 392.8 mm of rain between June 1 and July 31 this year against the normal rainfall of 508.5 mm. For the August month, the state has received only 454 mm rainfall against normal rainfall of 644.2 mm, a deficiency of 30 per cent and in some case, it is even to the extent of 50-60 per cent. Though a final estimate of shortfall in foodgrain production is yet to be made, in view of abject shortage of rainfall, the output is bound to drop sharply for this year.

Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar had placed a demand for Rs 5,062.75 crore special package to deal with the drought situation in the state. In addition to this, the state is also seeking an additional central assistance of Rs 1,510.50 crore for the 10 districts that were declared drought hit later by August 15. All sorts of contingency measures have been stepped up by the state government and central administration, but the real issue of relief and rehabilitation of millions of people must be addressed so that it does not turn into the Vidarbha like situation. State government has already promised for diesel subsidy and waive offs to the farmers, but the other issue that is confronted by state is the fast depleting groundwater reserves with little effort for the recharge of the same. Government has announced that, on agriculture loan up to Rs 3 lakh, the farmers would have to pay only 4 per cent interest and the remaining interest will be paid by the government. Similarly, the weavers will also get this benefit and will pay 4 percent interest on loan up to Rs 50,000.

Sowing area reduced to half in Bihar

Against a target of 4.5 million hectares of kharif crops like paddy, maize, coarse cereals and pulses, sowing has been completed only in 2.26 million hectare by now, as per the agriculture department release. Sowing areas have declined drastically this kharif in view of 30% deficiency of rainfall this monsoon and paddy sowing is worst hit among kharif crops. Paddy has been sown only in 18.53 lakh hectare area so far against the targeted area of 35.53 lakh hectares. There is a shortfall in the maize acreage too. Against a target of sowing maize in 3,75,000 hectare areas, it has been sown only in 2,91,000 hectare till now. Pulses and coarse cereals, however, have not been affected so far. The paddy production was also low at 3.06 million tonnes last year due to drought. Total foodgrain production in the state in 2009-10 was 10.5 million tonnes. The paddy planting in Bihar has come to almost half of its coverage as compared to the last year area. Situation is serious. Going by the trend, the foodgrain production is expected to be not more than 50 per cent of the target and, if the rains continue to elude the state, it could have adverse impact on the rabi crops too.

Alarmingly, deficient monsoon rains, canals with little water, and defunct tube wells have brought back the fear of drought in almost all parts of Bihar for the consecutive years. Lift irrigation facilities in Bihar are in shambles as almost 99 per cent of the government tube wells stand defunct. Many of them have not worked in years due to absence of power, transformers, and motors. Central Bihar, where agriculture is sustained by canal irrigation, faces trouble from empty canals

Emergency relief and cropping-cum-livelihood strategies must be put in place to avert distress. The flood prone area in the State is over 73 percent of its total geographical area, being more severe in the northern plains of Bihar. Yet, why should Bihar or UP suffer drought? They are not short of groundwater and irrigation systems. Irrigated area of the state is around 57 percent of the gross cropped area. This is mainly supplied through tube-well irrigation (63 percent) followed by canal (30 percent). Because of drastic shortage of electricity, most tube-wells are operated by diesel engines, leading to high costs. But the region suffers from long-standing agricultural depressors and structural deficiencies related to inequitable land relations, availability of extension services and credit. Without increasing productivity in the agricultural sector, sustainable development in Bihar cannot pick the required momentum.






% Departure





Central India




Southern peninsula




East and Northeast




All India









Eastern Uttar Pradesh








Gangetic West Bengal








Western Uttar Pradesh




Source: IMD (Rainfall in millimetres)

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