Drought shadow looms large

Bihar-Jharkhand farmers on the cross


Drought in 40 districts

The Bihar and Jharkhand governments have declared drought in 18 and 12 districts respectively in the wake of scanty rainfall.

Rain-god has failed them. The canal networks have ditched the farmers. Dark shadow of drought and resultant famine loom large for the second year in a row over Bihar and Jharkhand. Diesel prices have gone up. Electric power remains a pipe dream. The farmers are clueless as to how to meet the calamitous situation. Paddy seeds have either not been sown or seedlings are withering. Even in Sone canal areas paddy transplantation has not cover more than 30 per cent cropland on schedule.

DroughtThe mandarins in the twin states are still shying away from declaring drought. The Bihar government is toying with the idea of declaring 26 of 38 districts as drought-hit zones. Perhaps they are waiting for a nod from political leadership, which is busy in counting chickens for the upcoming Vidhan Sabha elections; albeit at the cost of state exchequers. Opposition parties, on their part, are engrossed in permutation and combination for the battle of ballots.

Jharkhand, under the President’s rule, is scanning the sky and bidding time to grow the situation alarming before the government machinery swings into action. “Special steps cannot be initiated unless it is officially declared as drought-hit,” explained disaster management department secretary M.N. Kerketta. The state has received 95mm rainfall during June against the normal average of 250 mm. In July the average rainfall was around 125mm against the average of 300 mm rainfall. Last year, Jharkhand was declared drought-hit even though the average rainfall was comparatively better; it received around 100 mm in June and about 225 mm in July.

Bihar is, however, deficient by 21 per cent on the rainfall quotient. Against a normal of 452 mm, the state recorded 358.7mm of rainfall in July. Scattered rainfall has made the situation pathetic in the rain shadow zones of Bihar. There is a silver lining in the dark cloud. The weather pundits, however, have forecast that August promises more than the normal rainfall. But, farmers would not take this soothing forecast without a pinch of salt. Meteorological forecast, more often than not, comes untrue.

Drought proof paddy

The Central Rainfed Rice Research Station (CRURRS), Hazaribagh, has developed a drought-proof paddy, Sahbhagi dhan. This strain needs minimum rainfall but gives good yield. With a well-established drought breeding network, in collaboration with with the International Rice Research Institute, Philipines, several state agricultural universities and sister institutions of ICAR, scientists have developed resilient varieties that can withstand drought spells whether it is in the initial, intermediate or terminal stages of the crop. The Sahbhagi dhan matures 10-15 days earlier than IR 64. The seeds released for cultivation in drought-prone rainfed shallow lowlands of Jharkhand and Orissa during 2009, had proved a big success.

Abhishek, a high-yielding variety released earlier, has already become popular among the farmers in and around Hazaribagh. The National Food Security Mission is planning to distribute 20,000 minikits of these varieties to farmers during the wet season of 2010 in Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh and Orissa. (BJMC)

Major parts of Bihar the state have received less than the normal rainfall till July. East Champaran (-15 per cent), Rohtas (-38 per cent) , Bhabua (-47 per cent) Bhojpur (-41 per cent), Buxar (-70 per cent), Patna (-36 per cent), Gaya (-30 per cent) and Araria (-73 per cent) are some of the major paddy producing districts which have witnessed deficient rainfall so far. In Jharkhand the districts under scanner are Palamu, Latehar, Garhwa, Dhanbad and Bokaro. As of now, with only 20 per cent paddy fields having been sown and groundwater levels depleting fast, Raj Bhavan is closely monitoring the situation.

“It will take another month to compile the report sought by the Governor. Paddy transplantation will become practically impossible after a week or so”, commented a senior Agriculture department official. So the Jharkhand government waits for the inevitable before its machinery swings into action to reach succour to the hapless farmers, labour force and social serfs.

The deficient rainfall in Bihar has adversely affected paddy transplantation in northern and eastern districts like Araria, Katihar, Supaul, Siwan, Muzaffarpur and Sitamarhi also. Bhadai sowing has already been severely affected in the twin states. As things stood in a rain-deficient 2009, Bihar received a total of 736.6 mm of rainfall against the normal of 1038.2 mm, which was 29% less than normal. It resulted in a decline in paddy output, which stood at 35 lakh metric tonnes against the normal of 50 lakh metric tonnes. Rains play a major role in paddy cultivation in Bihar. Around 55 per cent of the 35 lakh hectares on which paddy cultivation is done is dependent on rainfall. In Jharkhand assured irrigation is like asking for a moon. Major parts of this hill-locked state are facing drinking water crisis and if the rains play truant any further, reaching drinking water in a large number of villages would be Herculean task.


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