Centre and state governments have not followed through on providing food grains, mid-day meals, loans or MGNREGA payments.
New Delhi: Six people’s movements and organisations that have come together as an informal consortium to monitor the response of governments to the drought situation in large parts of the country slammed the Narendra Modi government as well as the states for their collective failure to act when nearly half the country’s population is suffering due to three years of successive drought, with millions of cattle and farm animals dying in the absence of water and fodder.
“Maybe in the colonial age, things would have been better,” said Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj Abhiyan, as he anchored a media interaction here on Thursday to build pressure on the Centre and the states to deliver on their promises.
Giving a detailed account of how governments have failed the people and ignored the directions of the apex court, leading to mass migration from the villages, Yadav said the Supreme Court had in a historic order in May delivered a judgment on the drought situation which was also a big order on social justice. This order, issued after conducting 14 hearings over 40 hours, enthused and activated people’s movements or andolans which wanted to see the order implemented at the ground level.
No change on the ground
However, Yadav added, a month later nothing has happened on the ground and the game is being played in files alone. “While the states have not played their role properly, the Centre is also abdicating its responsibility despite the Supreme Court stating that the buck stops with the Centre.” Yadav also observed that while it has been an extraordinary drought, for the governments it has been business as usual.
Though the Supreme Court had set deadlines in its judgment for ensuring immediate relief to the suffering population, he said the Centre has only done the basic paperwork to have something to show in court. “Nothing substantial has happened on the ground. When it comes to food safety, there is zero compliance; on providing mid-day meals to school children even during vacations in drought-affected districts too there is minimal compliance; and as for the distribution of MGNREGA wages, the funds have been choked from the top.”
Yadav said while Rs 2,500 crore in old payments were still due under NREGA, the government has done nothing to release the Rs 17,000 crore which the court had asked it to do. Even when it came to livestock, he said farm animals were dying in large numbers while the ridiculous debate over eating habits and beef was raging. “Millions of cattle have died but no one cares. The cattle sheds and fodder depots, which even the British would build, are nowhere to be found.”
Similarly, he said, the crop loss compensation is running way behind schedule; the compensation for last year’s hailstorm damage was still being distributed in some places. As for crop insurance, he called it a big fraud under which premiums were being taken without people’s knowledge and the payments never arrived.
Yadav also alleged that the governments had overlooked the Supreme Court’s directions on giving loans to needy farmers. To the contrary, old dues are being recovered and farmers are being charged and levied electricity bills on the basis of average consumption even where their borewells have dried up. “Old electricity bills are being forcibly collected and they are being put in jail if they are unable to pay.”
“This is a collective failure of our conscience,” he said, adding that the consortium would continue to mount pressure on governments to deliver and would also submit its report in the Supreme Court, which will next hear the matter in the first week of August.
P.V. Rajgopal, founding member of Ekta Parishad, talked about how in the past month he had covered around 800 km while visiting nine districts in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh but had not found the state governments acting as per the directions of the Supreme Court. “I interacted with over 5,000 people during the period but found that while people have taken initiative and constructed check dams in some places on their own, the state has been rather negligent and carried out work with disinterest. So you even find dams constructed by the government which do not have gates and so serve no purpose at all”.
Rajgopal said that in the absence of single window systems, corruption has risen and water has become a business in the drought districts. This has also created a lot of disparity as those with money are able to buy water from tankers and are able to sink deep borewells, while others are forced to sell off their cattle and land for survival. “As a consequence, new large fenced plots can now be seen in many parts of Telangana and Madhya Pradesh. Massive migration has also started and many old people have been left behind in the villages,” he said, adding that the worst affected by the crisis were the women, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Lack of compassion
Social activist Harsh Mander, who is now also special commissioner to the Supreme Court in the right to food case, said the response of the Centre and the states has been “one of extraordinary absence of compassion, urgency and accountability”.
While a third to half of the entire rural population is suffering due to drought and water tables have fallen sharply, he said on studying the response of the governments in the past he found that even the British in times of drought tried to generate employment, set up food centres and cattle camps. However, today’s governments at the Centre and in the states have not even done that much.
Mander said the Supreme Court had directed that five kilos of food grain per person be distributed to every household in drought affected districts whether or not they possessed a ration card. But despite there being huge stocks of grain, much of which is rotting in the absence of proper storage facilities, the distribution did not take place.
He said rather than acting on these directions of the court, finance minister Arun Jaitley made it an issue of the judiciary trying to usurp the powers of the legislature. He also accused the Centre of apathy: instead of issuing extra grain to the states at the National Food Security Act (NFSA) rates, it had written to them to procure the grains from it at the minimum support price, which was much higher than NFSA. “So the purchases did not take place,” he said.
Stating that migration from the affected districts has increased two to three times as people suffering due to drought are leaving their habitations for survival, Mander said it is a harrowing scenario in which entire settlements are being emptied out, cattle are dying and old people are abandoned.
“They are not even providing feeding centres for the people, though these could have been easily linked to the mid-day meal centres. We may be the fastest growing economy, but there is a definite lack of compassion,” Mander said.
Food security and MGNERGA order not implemented
Elaborating on the issue of mid-day meals, Dipa Sinha, a right to food campaigner, said the Supreme Court had ordered that in drought-affected districts the mid-day meals be served in schools even during the summer vacations, but in most places the governments wasted a lot of time just deliberating on the issue and the meals were never served.
She added that in February every year, states are required to prepare an annual work plan in which they can mention if they want meals to be served in drought prone areas for longer durations. “But this year, Bihar, Jharkhand and Haryana did not ask for such meals in their plan and as a result malnutrition and diarrhoea in these states has only increased. In Madhya Pradesh, people were not even aware of the scheme and in Uttar Pradesh, while it was on in some places till May, due to protests by teachers it was abandoned midway. There has also been a lot of paperwork on the issue but no delivery on the court orders.”
Sinha said there was also an order of the Supreme Court on distributing eggs and milk under the mid-day meal, and while Andhra Pradesh and Telangana did start it in a few places, some Jain preachers resisted the move in Madhya Pradesh. She said the deadline set by the apex court to provide eggs and milk has passed without the orders being implemented properly.
Social activist Nikhil Dey of Soochna Evum Rozgar Abhiyan talked about how the Centre has not adhered to the Supreme Court’s directives on releasing the MGNREGA arrears and payments. He said the court had also directed that people be given 150 days of work instead of 100 days in drought affected districts. “There is an order of the past, but the government has not bothered to meet it.”
On the other hand, he accused the Centre of delaying the release of funds and of lagging way behind on payment of Rs 17,000 crores to the states for MGNREGA payments. “Even the pending liabilities of last year not been cleared yet, and the government has also not paid the compensation on delayed wages,” he claimed.
In such a scenario, Dey said MGNREGA, as per a government report, has lost credibility due to non-payment and delayed payments.
Former Samajwadi Party MLA and founder of Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, Sunilam, talked about how farmers were being forced once again to approach private money lenders for funding of seeds and manure as the government banks have either declared them defaulters or are simply refusing them credit till the time they had cleared their earlier liabilities. He said this was in violation of Supreme Court orders which had directed the Centre to implement the existing policy of debt restructuring and waiver for farmers who have suffered loss of crops.
“Even the Rs 7,800 per hectare compensation announced in states like Madhya Pradesh has not been paid to most farmers,” he said, adding that in most cases farmers have suffered the loss of six consecutive crops over the last three years.
Sunilam said farmers are also facing distress due to the cattle fodder crisis and are being forced to abandon their cattle in large numbers. “This is an irreparable loss for them as they would not able to buy them again.”