Climate Change

Sparse monsoon 2021: Should Gujarat prepare for drought?

Amid a derailing COVID-19 pandemic, after Cyclone Tauktae devastation, comes a deep deficit in rainfall

By Jumana Shah
Published: Monday 23 August 2021

Farmers in Gujarat are staring a possible drought after the failure of the southwest monsoon in the state this year. This, even as people in the state have already suffered nearly two years of economic difficulties due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and it has been three months since Cyclone Tauktae. 

According to the India Meteorological Department, Ahmedabad, 30 of Gujarat’s 33 districts received deficient rainfall from June 1-August 23. Three districts — Surendranagar, Gandhinagar and Aravalli — received largely deficient rainfall in this period.

Manorama Mohanty, the head of the India Meteorological Department Gujarat, said: “We still have a month. If a system forms, we can hope for recovery. But that, we cannot assume at this point,” she told this reporter. 

Sagar Rabari, a farmer leader, however, said the situation was already lost:

The loss to farmers for this season is irreversible. Even if it rains enough in the next month, the standing crop is already in the flowering stage and needs water right now. Rainfall in the coming month may make up for the percentage shortfall of rain in numbers, but farmers are looking at severe losses.

Rabari, who recently joined the Aam Aadmi Party, is also a former president of the Khedut Ekta Manch (Farmers’ Unity Organisation), a farmers’ non-profit. The body is active in 11 districts.

Farmers in the Surendranagar (in Saurashtra) and Aravalli (in north Gujarat) districts have already submitted memorandums this week to their respective collectors to declare their districts as drought-hit. They have also requested that a survey be commenced for farmers to draw benefit under the CM Kisan Sahay Yojana.

Gujarat also goes to the polls to elect a new legislative assembly next year.

Erratic monsoon is a long-standing characteristic of the Saurashtra, Kutch and north Gujarat regions. The Sardar Sarovar Narmada Dam project was planned as far back is 1946 to reduce agricultural activity’s dependence on the vagaries of the monsoon.

However, the project continues to draw more political controversy than actual irrigation water for the farmer.

JK Patel, a cotton farmer in Surendranagar district, said everything was now dependent on the Narmada dam water:

The branch canal has water right now, so farmers are drawing from it through the back door system of pulling through what is called bucknallis. Water is pulled out of the canal through a pump and taken to each field through pipes. Whatever might be the status on paper, work on minor and sub-minor canals is incomplete.

Patel added that one did not know how long the water would last. 

Pulling water through bucknallis is an unorganised method of drawing water, leaving farmers vulnerable to water mafia and local politicians.

However, the Narmada canal system only covers parts of north Gujarat. Saurashtra continues to be dry, dependent on 141 local dams. Rajkot, the constituency of Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, is particularly rain-parched, struggling even for drinking water.

As of August 19, 2021, only three of Gujarat’s 207 dams were completely full according to the state government’s data.

The live water storage of dams in four districts of north Gujarat was 18.89 per cent; that of Kutch was 13.85 per cent and that of Saurashtra was 36.23 per cent.

Sources claimed north Gujarat farmers were planning for a hand-to-mouth existence by cultivating just about enough for livestock and sustaining on the dairy sector.

Rabari, however, said farmers in Banaskantha district in north Gujarat had said there wasn’t enough water even for livestock to drink. He reiterated Patel’s sentiment that everything now depended on rainfall in the Narmada river’s catchment area.

Rabari said recently, days had been cloudy and without rainfall. This usually led to worm-infestation in the crop. So farmers spent more on pesticides. Once this expense had been taken care of and there was no rain, farmers usually stared at a catch-22 situation, Rabari said.

Meanwhile, government officials from the state agriculture department do not see a cause for concern just yet, as the following month holds promise.

“Even if the rains next month don’t help the standing crop, it will recharge ground water levels and fill up dams,” the government source requesting anonymity said.

However, the farmers point out that the expense of drawing water with diesel-run pumps is an additional expense to be borne by the farmer alone.

A farmer leader from Saurashtra said 2022 would be the third consecutive year of bad produce for farmers, especially those growing cash crops such as cotton and groundnut in Gujarat.

The year 2020 had wreaked losses due to the COVID-19 lockdown and pandemic. A similar situation continued in 2021 and now, 2022 did not promise much better, the leader said. 

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