Think institution

The need of the hour is to decentralise drought management and think long-term

Published: Friday 15 June 2001

Think institution

An analysis of the government's failure at drought relief shows some clear loopholes that are not very difficult to plug for a government that is worried about its political future. The most important thing is to plan decentralised, village-level institutions to both manage drought relief and come up with strategic initiatives to provide security against drought. All government schemes have been plagued by the more-structures-no-institutions approach. Even if water conservation structures like tanks are built -- despite the phenomenal corruption and pig-headedness in the government machinery -- there is no effort to mobilise local preparedness.

The Jawahar Rozgar Yojna is perhaps the only government scheme in which money goes directly to the local government bodies. Even this has suffered from the bureaucratic functioning that prevents the much-needed money from reaching the people. The answer to the weakness in jry would be more jry . Only this time, the involvement of the village assembly should be made mandatory. The effort of the bureaucracy-politician combine to weaken and discredit this cheme is understandable, but pathetic and unfortunate. On May 21, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee talked about the suggestion made by eminent agriculture scientist M S Swaminathan to create grain banks at the village level. This was at a meeting held with all the chief ministers on the World Trade Organisation ( wto ) and agriculture. However, no thought has been put into the details of implementing this. But at the same meeting he talked about his dream project of rural roads. His administration wants to use the surplus grain (worth Rs 50,000 crore) to build more roads. People in villages where roads are being built under drought relief point out that the quality of the roads is kept poor so that drought relief is organised again the next year.

Vajpayee needs to understand one thing, and understand it loud and clear. If soil and water conservation is not made an inherent part of drought relief, all the roads he plans to build -- even if they last one rain -- will only bring more drought refugees to the cities. In April 1999, eas was changed further to stipulate that no money would be spent on watershed development. The Planning Commission disagrees with this -- and rightly so -- as it holds that these water harvesting structures were leading to agriculture development in poor areas, creating jobs on a permanent basis . The ministry has taken this decision because watershed development measures take more than one year to implement, and the ministry is not prepared to commit itself to long-term solutions. This is clearly not the way to deal with drought. As Down To Earth reporters observed during their visits to villages that are faring well in the face of the third successive year of drought, water conservation measure take eight to nine years to develop a buffer that can see them through drought. ============================================================

With inputs from Kazimuddin Ahmed in Madhya Pradesh, Lian Chawii, Binayak Das, Snehasis Das in New Delhi, Ranjan Panda in Orissa and Chattisgarh, and Vibha Varshney in Rajasthan

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