Sometimes back, a former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson was commenting on the credibility of weather forecasts. He said: "I too am an optimist. But I still like to carry my umbrella with me."
Things haven't changed since then. Even in this age of technology, and I am talking of times when we all talk of rocket science, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) weather forecasts continue to be unreliable. Remember, a month back the Science Minister Prithvi Raj Chauhan, had in a press conference said that the IMD forecast was for a 19 per cent deficit in monsoon rainfall in the northwestern parts of the country. Their calculations have gone awry since then.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said India's vital monsoon rains have been 29 per cent below normal since the beginning of the June-september season. I am sure the IMD would appreciate that there is a huge difference between 19 per cent and 29 per cent in the deficiency of rainfall. I don't think the nation should pardon the IMD for such flawed projections. India cannot be held for ransom by a bunch of meteorological experts who do not know what they are talking about. I think some heads in IMD must roll. There is an urgent need to bring in merit and professionalism in the working of the IMD.
Anyway, the gathering drought has compounded the water crisis. Not only for drinking, availability of water is becoming a big problem for farmers to protect their standing crop. While it may be relatively easy for farmers in Punjab and Haryana to provide life-saving irrigation to the standing crop, in several other parts of the country farmers are in terrible hardship. Saving the standing crop has become a big challenge.
Far from the madding crowd, farmers are now battling literally for water with guns. Well, don't be surprised. I am quoting from a news report datelined Aurangabad in The Hindustan Times today. The report says: As the coverage of paddy has so far been only 18.82 per cent and maize a little over 15 per cent, it is a do-or-die situation for the farmers, who are forced to guard their water resources with guns. They go to the fields with farm implements and guns so that others do not share whatever little water is available in irrigation canals. You can read the full report at: http://epaper.hindustantimes.com/ArticleImage.aspx?article=18_08_2009_013_004&mode=1
In another detailed report from far away Andhra Pradesh in Indian Express: In a village in Mahabubnagar district of AP, farmers are adding to their debt by spending about Rs 2,000 per month to buy water for their fields. It quotes a farmer Shivanarayana who is struggling to save the crop. His two borewells in his and neighbouring field have dried up. Now he is borrowing money to buy water from a private borewell to water his crop. The report entitled "We may have to forgo one meal today, but we have to buy water for the crop" can be read at: http://epaper.indianexpress.com/IE/IEH/2009/08/18/index.shtml
Reading these two news reports, I recall with disgust a popular perception among the economists and the business analysts who say that NREGA should be able to provide farmers with an economic cushion at times of such calamities. What a shame that a section of our elite and opinion makers should be so indifferent and callous towards human suffering.