Activists, Academics Write Open Letter to PM Modi on the Drought

Drought-hit farmers in Karnataka. Credit: PTI

Drought-hit farmers in Karnataka. Credit: PTI

According to the central government’s statement to the Supreme Court last week, a third of the India’s districts are currently facing a severe drought. This means that at least 33 crore Indians are affected by ongoing the crisis.

Expressing their deep concern on the issue and the impact it is having on rural populations of the country, and asking that the government take appropriate relief measures immediately, more than 150 academics and activists have written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Dear Mr Prime Minister,

We wish to convey our deep collective anxiety about the enormous suffering of the rural poor in large parts of India’s countryside as they are battling drought, often for the second or even third consecutive year. In areas where rains have failed, farmers who depend mainly on rainwater to irrigate their crops have no or very low crop yields. Those who rely on irrigation are also affected, with groundwater sinking and streams and reservoirs drying up. All this adds to chronic agrarian distress reflected in a massive slowdown in agricultural growth during the last few years, with no imminent signs of recovery.

The consequence of this adversity is massive distress movement of populations, causing broken childhoods, interrupted education, life in camps, city pavements or crowded shanties. Add to this the old and the infirm who are left behind, to beg for food or just quietly die. The cattle for whom there is no fodder, sold at distress prices or just abandoned to fend for themselves. And the drying up even of sources of water to drink.

However, the response of central and state administrations to looming drought is sadly listless, lacking in both urgency and compassion. The scale of MGNREGA works is way below what is required and wages often remain unpaid for months. Even more gravely, the central and state governments are doing far too little to implement the National Food Security Act, three years after it came into force. Had the Act been in place, more than 80% of rural households in the poorer states would be able to secure about half of their monthly cereal requirements almost free of cost. In a drought situation food security entitlements should be made universal.

In addition, we find no plans in most of the drought-hit regions for feeding the destitute, especially old persons left behind when families migrate, children without care-givers, the disabled and other vulnerable groups. ICDS centres could have been upgraded to supply emergency feeding to the destitute during the drought, but this has not happened. Under Supreme Court orders, school meals should be served on all days, including holidays, in drought-affected areas, but this is rarely the case. Arrangements to augment drinking water supply, including ensuring that marginalised hamlets have functioning tube-wells and transporting water where necessary, are awfully inadequate. There are also few attempts to create fodder banks and cattle camps. Most of these measures used to be a routine part of state response to drought, and were often undertaken with a great sense of urgency, but they are barely being considered today.

The highest priority of the central government in a drought situation should be to ensure the creation of millions of additional person-days of work in all affected villages. Instead, the government has not even allocated enough funds this year to sustain the level of employment generated last year – 233 crore person-days according to official data. At current levels of expenditure per person-day, this would cost well over 50,000 crore rupees. Yet the central government has allocated just 38,500 crore rupees to MGNREGA this year, of which more than 12,000 crore rupees are required to clear pending liabilities. These liabilities only prove the distress crores of workers have been put through because of wages left unpaid for months at a time. Unemployment allowance and mandatory compensation for delayed wage payments are also not paid, citing “insufficient funds”, resulting in a failure of the Act, and its legal safeguards. Most alarming today, is that instead of expanding, MGNREGA is all set to contract in this critical drought year, unless financial allocations are vastly expanded.

The enormous distress – of food, drinking water, work, fodder for animals, and dignity – of hundred of millions is utterly unacceptable. We demand that the central government under your leadership acknowledges these failures and makes rapid amends, by implementing all the traditional relief measures as well as by ensuring full implementation of the National Food Security Act 2013 and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 in letter and spirit.

Signed –

  1. Aruna Roy, senior activist, Rajasthan
  2. Jean Dreze, Economist
  3. Jayati Ghosh, Economist
  4. Harsh Mander, Activist, Writer
  5. Satish Deshpande, Academic, Sociologist
  6. Deep Joshi, senior environmentalist and water activist
  7. Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Emeritus, Economist, Senior academician
  8. Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, Senior Economist
  9. Vijay Vyas, Professor Emeritus, Senior Economist
  10. Utsa Patnaik, Professor and Senior Economist
  11. Arundhati Roy, Writer
  12. Admiral Ramdas, former Chief of Naval Staff
  13. Lalita Ramdas, activist, Maharashtra
  14. Naseeruddin Shah, Actor
  15. Brinda Karat, Women’s leader, Politician
  16. Medha Patkar, Activist, politician, women’s leader
  17. Shabana Azmi, Actor
  18. Kavitha Kuruganti, Activist, leader of farmer’s groups
  19. Nivedita Menon, Academic
  20. Nandita Das, actor
  21. Mukul Kesavan, writer
  22. Leela Samson, dancer
  23. Ashok Vajpeyi, writer
  24. Justice Rajinder Sachar, senior jurist
  25. Syeda Hameed, women’s leader, former member Planning Commission
  26. Shyam Benegal, filmmaker
  27. Himanshu Thakkar, environmentalist
  28. Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Information Commissioner
  29. Deepak Sandhu, former Chief Information Commissioner
  30. Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner
  31. Uma Chakravarty, historian
  32. Ritwick Dutta, environmental legal activist
  33. Trilochan Shastry, academic
  34. Jagdeep Chhokar, academic
  35. Advocate Vrinda Grover
  36. Nandini Sundar, Sociologist
  37. Shekhar Singh, RTI activist
  38. Amar Kanwar, filmmaker
  39. Prof C.P.Chandrasekhar, labour economist
  40. Dilip Simeon, academic
  41. Prithvi Sharma, activist, also on behalf of ICAN
  42. Maja Daruwala, senior human rights activist
  43. Mathew Cherian, Helpage
  44. M. Krishna, Musician, Writer
  45. Anand Patwardhan, filmmaker
  46. Lalit Mathur, former civil servant
  47. Kavita Srivastava, PUCL, Rajasthan
  48. Anjali Bhardwaj, RTI activist
  49. Achin Vinayak, academic and activist, Delhi
  50. Ram Rehman, photographer
  51. Pamela Philipose, journalist
  52. A.Gandhi , academic
  53. Rita Anand, senior journalist
  54. Nirmala Lakshman, senior journalist
  55. Tripurari Sharma, Drama and Theater, playright
  56. Harsh Sethi, writer
  57. Madhu Bhaduri, former diplomat
  58. Sharmila Tagore, Actor
  59. Amitabh Mukhopadhyay, former auditor, CAG
  60. Mridula Mukherjee, historian
  61. Aditya Mukherjee, historian
  62. Amita Baviskar, academic
  63. Arundhati Dhuru, activist, UP
  64. Kavita Krishnan, activist, leader of women’s groups
  65. Reetika Khera, Economist
  66. Sanjay Kak, filmmaker
  67. Baba Adhav, labour leader
  68. Achyut Das, activist, Odisha
  69. Ajit Ranade, economist
  70. Kalpana Kannabiran, sociologist, lawyer
  71. Vasanth Kannabiran, teacher and activist, Andhra
  72. Paul Divakar, dalit activist
  73. Abha Sur, writer, academic
  74. Rajni Bakshi, writer
  75. Ravi Chopra, activist, Uttarakhand
  76. Neelabh Mishra, writer
  77. Poornima Chikarmane, Pune
  78. Zoya Hasan , academic, political scientist
  79. Shabnam Hashmi, activist
  80. Rebecca John, academic
  81. Anandalakshmy, academic
  82. Smita Gupta, Economist, Head of economic cell, AIDWA
  83. Praveen Jha, Economist
  84. Gautam Navlakha, senior activist
  85. Venkatesh Nayak, RTI activist
  86. Seema Mustafa, journalist, editor, The Citizen
  87. Bela Bhatia, academic
  88. Bezwada Wilson, senior activist
  89. Haragopal, academic
  90. Sumit Chakravarty, Editor, Mainstream
  91. Gargi Chakravarty, Women’s activist
  92. Patricia Uberoi
  93. Kamal Chenoy, senior academic
  94. Janaki Nair, academic
  95. Vipul Mudgal, journalist
  96. Deepa Sinha, Right to Food activist
  97. Himanshu, activist
  98. Uma Pillai, former civil servant
  99. Nikhil Dey, activist, Rajasthan
  100. N.Rath, academic
  101. Abey George,academic
  102. Mahesh Pandya, ICAN
  103. Jyothi Krishnan, academic
  104. Balram, activist, Jharkhand
  105. AL Rangarajan, ICAN
  106. Rajaram Singh
  107. Rameshwar Prasad, ICAN
  108. Anand Murugesan, academic
  109. Abha Bhaiya, women’s activist
  110. Sagar Rabari, activist, Gujarat
  111. Dhirendhra Singh
  112. Rammanohar Reddy, former editor EPW, senior writer
  113. Nandini K Oza, water activist, Maharasthra
  114. Osama Manzar, Digital Empowerment Foundation
  115. Rakesh Sharma
  116. Pankti Jog, RTI activist
  117. Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, RTI activist, Telangana
  118. Subrat Das, economist
  119. Umesh Anand, editor, Civil Society
  120. Charul,singer, cultural activist
  121. Vinay, singer, writer, musician, activist
  122. Maya Caroli
  123. Ashwini Kulkarni, activist, Pune
  124. Vibha Puri Das
  125. Surjit Das
  126. Amrita Johri, RTI activist
  127. Madhuresh Kumar, activist
  128. Ankur Sarin
  129. Dipak Dholakia
  130. Navdeep Mathur
  131. Harinesh, activist, Gujarat
  132. Persis Ginwalla
  133. Shamsul Islam, theatre activist
  134. Prafulla Samantara, activist, Odisha
  135. Lingraj Azad, activist, Odisha
  136. Sunilam, activist, Madhya Pradesh
  137. Aradhana Bhargava
  138. Meera Chaudhary, activist
  139. Suniti SR, activist, Pune
  140. Suhas Kolhekar, activist Pune
  141. Prasad Bagwe
  142. Gabrielle Dietrich, leader of Women’s groups
  143. Geetha Ramakrishnan, activist Tamil Nadu
  144. R. Neelkandan
  145. P Chennaiah, activist Telangana
  146. Ramakrishnan Raju, activist, Andhra
  147. Richa Singh, activist, Uttar Pradesh
  148. Sister Cella
  149. Vimal Bhai, activist, Himachal Pradesh
  150. Jabar Singh, activist
  151. Anand Mazgaonkar
  152. Krishnakanth
  153. Kamayani Swami, activist, Bihar
  154. Ashish Ranjan, activist
  155. Mahendra Yadav, activist
  156. Faisal Khan, activist, Haryana
  157. JS Walla
  158. Kailash Meena, activist, Rajasthan
  159. Amitava Mitra
  160. Aveek Saha
  161. BS Rawat
  162. Rajendra Ravi
  163. Shabnam Shaikh
  164. Mahesh Pandya
  165. S. Shylendra
  166. Iqbalkhan Pulli
  167. Soumen Ray
  168. Ramachandra Prasad, ICAN
  169. Ravi M.
  170. Dipak Dholakia