Indian Drought 2015-16:  Lessons To Be Learnt


Co-Written by Ashish Singh & Raghu Pilla

Categorized as one of the worst droughts in the history of India, drought 2015-16 has affected more than 330 million people in more than 2.5 lakh villages of 266 districts from 11 states in India. It has had a devastating impact on people’s lives as it affected water availability, agriculture, livelihoods, food production and food security, natural resources and also put a huge burden on exchequer. But rather than classifying drought as a meteorological condition, we need to look into the aspects of drought in a more holistic way, as argued by Amartya Sen in his work on Poverty and Famine (1981), beside the factors such as harvest failures, reductions in food imports etc, social systems determine how a society’s food is distributed. This is an important point to reflect upon and use as a pretext while discussing situations of drought in India.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines Drought as a period of abnormally dry weather long enough to cause a serious hydrological imbalance. Drought is a relative term; therefore any discussion in terms of precipitation deficit must refer to the particular precipitation-related activity that is under discussion.

ActionAid India, along with many other civil society organisations and social movements responded to the drought this year. Bihar & Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan & Gujarat, Telangana & Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh &Uttarakhand regional offices of ActionAid India initiated ground work in seven states reaching out to the most marginalised and in solidarity with them advocated for relief and other support from the state. As part of the advocacy work, ActionAid conducted public consultations and hearings in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan with solidarities. A multistate study was also conducted to capture the crises, the responses to the crises, the gaps therein and the status of various governmentprogrammes and provisions which either helped in mitigating or aggravating the crises. Village surveys covering 279 villages in 30 districts and seven states were part of the process. ActionAid India regional offices came up with respective state level briefs.

This volume presents the issues and challenges faced by people while keeping the government and Supreme Court’s directives and decisions in mind.

In Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan public hearings and consultations were held. More than 2000 agriculturists- small farmers and workers, including women farmers, participated in them. People expressed their desires to have a right to relief and protection, the wanted efforts towards revival and development of water sources, land, forests, and commons.

Situations like drought bring up issues related to improper functioning of government schemes and programmes. Across the states surveyed significant proportions of households were excluded from lists despite their eligibility under National Food Security Act- about 43% in Madhya Pradesh, 10% in Jharkhand and 2% in both Odisha and Telangana. In Jharkhand, despite having NFSA cards another 14% were not getting ration because of various reasons. In Madhya Pradesh 33% families had reported that they were not getting the ration on regular basis. Shops were open only for 2 to 3 days in a month. In Madhya Pradesh 48% of villages reported that ration shops were open only for 3 days in a month and 33% villages reported shops were open for only 2 days and 19% villages said only one day. In Rajasthan out of a total of 75 villages, 20 villages reported that they were not getting food grains on regular basis.


Aadhar linkage issues have been reported from Telangana, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh due to which families are not getting ration. Many districts have not appointed the grievance offices to address the issues. Though the Supreme Court order mandated provision of mid-day meals during the summer vacation, it was found that the orders were partially implemented in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan while it was implemented better in Jharkhand and Telangana states. However, it was not all implemented in Odisha. In case of Maharashtra, the field reports contradicted the information provided by the official sources.

Food intake has also been affected because of severe drought and women are at the receiving end in this context.In Odisha field observations revealed that in case of 70% households there has been significant change in food consumptionand 71% females had reported decreased food intake due to the prevailing drought situation. The small andmarginal farmers could barely meet 30% of the food requirement for the whole family.

Drought and mismanagement of water resources have created water crisis in many states. In significant proportions handpumps were found to be defunct, in Uttar Pradesh 25%, in Jharkhand 27% and Telangana 42%. Even among the functionalhand-pumps, two thirds are partially functional and with insufficiently safe water. Water tankers were arrangedby the district administration, but it was not sufficient to cater to the demands of the drought affected population. Theproportions of dysfunctional hand-pumps were higher in the case of Odisha 53%, Rajasthan 56% and Maharashtra90%. The response of the concerned water department in taking up either repair of existing pumps or digging newbore wells was scanty and not seen in villages. Acute scarcity of drinking water was reported in Sundergarh districtof Odisha. In Odisha upto93% of traditional water bodies have not been renovated for the last 10 years and 57% of water bodies created underMGNREGS have dried up without proper inlet and outlet arrangements.

State surveys revealed that the scale of damage done by drought was huge, proportions of farmers who reported crop lossranged from 60% to 94%. In 19 villages of Telangana it was found that 5562 acres of land was left fallow.Compensation for crop loss had not been received by all farmers, in Uttar Pradesh in 11 villages it was reported thatonly 420 farmers (18.4%) out of 2275 farmers got crop compensation for crop loss pertaining to the 2014-15 kharifseason and 1834 farmers (74%) got compensation out of 2454 farmers for the 2014-15 rabi season. Madhya Pradeshhad interesting findings in relation to crop compensation. It was found that 24% did not receive any compensationand among those who received compensation, 69% received less than Rs.1000/-. These findings have also highlightedthe fact that majority of tenants and sharecroppers (88%) were excluded from compensation framework. Other majorissues came to light was that non timber forest produce (NTFP) losses that impacted tribal families were not countedas part of losses.

It was reported that 40-65% of the farmers were indebted and facing extreme depressing conditions due to theburden of loan. In the villages of Uttar Pradesh this proportion was as high as 87.5%.

Drought works as a push factor for migration. It was found that migration, a common phenomenon in these regions, especially in Marathwada, Bundelkhand and

Telangana, has increased significantly. There was more than 20% population migration from affected villages. Alongwith young population, a significant number of children and women also accompanied their families to cities. In UttarPradesh 896 children (12.3%) in the age group 0-6 years and 945 children (13.1%) in the age group 6-14 years joinedtheir parents migrating to uncertain and unsafe locations to live in precarious conditions.

In the absence of agriculture work and other land/water dependent works, work under Mahatma Gandhi NationalRural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) is the only alternative for survival and livelihood for millions of wageseekers. It is evident that specific efforts were not made to activate wage work under MGNREGA. Moreover delayedpayments had severely impacted the interests of the workers and crippled its implementation. In Madhya Pradesh 17%,in Telangana 9.3% and in Jharkhand 20% had no job cards despite their interest in securing MGNREGA work. In UttarPradesh also such problems were found in 15 villages. Further despite their need and willingness to work, a significantproportion of workers/villages did not get work under MGNREGA — this percentage ranges between 5% and 30%.Delayed payments were reported across all the villages studied. There was delay (almost six months) in releasing fundsfrom the Central government to the State governments. This was corroborated by Madhya Pradesh study in 43 villageswhere only in case of 20% villages wages were paid on time and in 80% of the villages the payments were delayed for aperiod ranging from one to six months.

Field reports revealed that thousands of cattle were left abandoned due to prevailing conditions in the villages. In thestudy villages of Madhya Pradesh 91% of the cattle was abandoned, while Jharkhand reported 3008 cattle as abandonedand Uttar Pradesh reported 22% loss in cattle population when compared to the last year. Further, Uttar Pradeshalso reported 1543 cattle deaths while villages from Rajasthan reported death of 1391 cattle due to scarcity of water andshortage of fodder. It has further reported that out 77 villages, 73 reported scarcity of fodder. Distress sale of cattle wasreported from all villages.

Alternatives that build drought resilience are available as local success stories. These include stories of water harvestingin tribal village of Odisha and Uttar Pradesh, the cultivating of drought resistant paddy in Odisha, alternate models ofwater harvesting structures in Maharashtra, de-siltation of lakes in Karnataka, rain harvesting in Laporiya village inRajasthan. In order to enriching learning, we have also added two cases from organizations having rich experience onwater conservation.

The report concludes by saying that establishing relief as a right for communities affected by emergencies including drought,ensuring community access and control over natural resources especially water, to create a comprehensive law for equitabledistribution and just governance of water and a critical review of current market-driven extractive developmentparadigm to build sustainable and equitable futures for all.

This report is a good resource material for those willing to understand the causal relationship between drought, access to basic amenities and livelihood opportunities for have nots. Academia and policy makers should get more involved in formulating and executing such studies so that the outreach can be extended.

*Ashish Singh is working as a Consultant: Programmes, Policies & Communications with ActionAid India, New Delhi. He can be reached at- [email protected]

**Raghu Pilla is working as Leader, Land & Livelihood Knowledge and Activist Hub, ActionAid India. He can be reached at- [email protected]

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