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June 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.    Wishing You All a Happy New Year.       June 2019 Edition of Power Politics is updated.
Issue:June' 2019


State machinery waking up late

Mamtha Sharma, Bengaluru

K arnataka is facing a severe drought condition which is also impacting the availability of drinking water following deficient rainfall during the 2018-19 kharif and rabi season.
The seriousness of the situation can be gauged from the fact that groundwater level in 156 taluks in 30 districts is at a new low. As many as 107 taluks have been facing severe drought conditions while another 49 come under the moderate impact category. An estimated 20 lakh hectares of farm land is currently affected by drought . Some of the worst affected taluks include Chikkaballapur, Kolar,Bangarpet and Haveri, to name but a few.

If this was not enough ,state officials have recorded over 85 per cent decline in the ground water level this summer ,in the process impacting scores of borewells besides drying up several tanks.

Added to it is the fact that the centre is learnt to have issued a drought advisory ,even asking the state to use the depleting resource in its reservoirs judiciously while giving priority to drinking water first.

Significantly, even though the situation in some of the reservoirs is marginally better than last year, the advisory does urge caution for the time being considering also ,perhaps, the fact that the south west monsoon is expected to be comparatively below normal this year.

In Kalaburgi in north Karnataka,for example,instances of farmers selling their cattle following poor availability of water is not uncommon. According to V Pattanshetty, a farmer, several houses in his area have to make do with merely five pots of water a day,managing the collection from the water tankers supplied by the government.

If this was not enough,in Gujarkot village in Yadgir ,for example, desperate farmers have been known to leave their homes to scout for jobs in Bengaluru and other places.

The scale of the problem can be gauged from the fact that nearly 150 villages have been facing acute shortage of water,forcing the government to get private borewells to chip in for help, albeit intermittently.

This is not all. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA),initiated by the UPA government precisely to help the farmers to tide over such crisis ,is also facing problems.

This is largely because the farmers believe that the cities to which they hope to migrate will provide them over Rs 300 to RS 400 hundred a day as wages ,nearly double of what they get under MNREGA. Besides, even though the government has streamlined MNREGA, cases of farmers being unhappy over late payment of wages is not new.

Anand, a farm hand in Andrail village near Hubli, is a case in point. The farmer for whom he was working began facing severe crop losses after he failed to irrigate his land.” I tried working at a MNREGA project to make good my wage loss, but irregularity of payment was a problem. My friends who migrated to Mangalore and Bengaluru, however, were earning over Rs 500 a day while working for construction companies. Now, I am leaving to join them.

Similarly, in parts of Chickballapur district, the non availability of fodder has become a major issue in the drought hit areas.This has forced a few farmers to sell their cattle.More so as fodder sold by private parties is extremely expensive with one tractor load costing anywhere near Rs 30,000. A government official ,on his part, told Power Politics that there were instances of people who had five and more cows , selling them out of desperation as they could not see the animals go hungry.

In parts of Chitradurga, according to available reports, problems of a different nature have cropped up. Under the Swachh Bharat programme, for example, the government had built pucca toilets for the people of Molakaimuru taluk. Ironically, as Nanjandaiah, a local reporter pointed out, “of what use are these toilets if there is no water even for drinking. It is not surprising, therefore, to see most villagers defecating in the open fields.”

In other places, parents are taking advantage of their children’s school holidays. They engage them to fetch water from government schools .As the water comes in the wee hours of the morning, willy nilly ,the children have to get up early too,much to their dislike.

Incidentally, according to the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre , all major rivers in the coastal belt including Netravathi, Phalguni, Swarna, Chakra, Varahi, Sharavathi, Aghanashini and Kali, are facing extremely low or nil water flow.

Meanwhile, a central team has already assessed the drought condition in the state and the damage caused to the rabi crop. On its part, in a memorandum, Karnataka has sought central assistance exceeding Rs 2000 crore for farmers’ relief.

Following the recent elections and the time lag in the formation of the new government, the state will have no choice but to wait for the new government to come in place before it receives any relief package of note, bemoaned a revenue official.

Late awakening

This delay,needless to say, has made matters worse even though the state administration , on its part, did wake up late to release funds to the district commissioners for relief works.

While several reasons can be ascribed for the prevailing drought conditions, the state government cannot escape much of the blame. To start with, it has failed to complete the projects that it had started to link major and minor irrigation water bodies ,including village tanks. Secondly, despite repeated pleas the authorities concerned did not desilt the lakes and tanks as a result of which inflow channels ,during rains, remain unproductive.

Equally important is the fact that despite knowing the state of affairs even in late December and March this year, the government failed to act fast. Today,however, its officials are arguing that their hands were tied because of the Moral Code of Conduct that came into force post the announcement and the subsequent execution of the General Election process.

In other words, for more than a month, the government machinery ground to a halt with every minister and babu concerned taking refuge behind the Moral Code of Conduct.

H D Kumaraswamy Moreover,since the completion of the election process in the state on April 18 and 23 , chief minister , H D Kumaraswamy, was busy visiting all the temples in the south that he could think of , if only to pray for the victory of his son, Nikhil, from the Mandya Parliamentary constituency. Nikhil was debuting as a politician from Mandya where his opponent, Sumalatha, wife of Ambareesh, the late Congress MP, gave him a tough fight.
In fact, it was only after the opposition BJP started criticising the ruling JDS -Congress coalition about its casual handling of the drought situation, that the chief minister decided to hold a video conference with district officials of concerned. on the all important drought situation. This was also the time for the government to think of cloud seeding for which it has now earmarked over Rs 88 crores.

Meanwhile, Kumaraswamy did , albeit belatedly, provide Rs 5 crore to each of the district commissioners for providing immediate relief to the affected farmers, to start with.

All these efforts mean nothing as the government has failed to be proactive in protecting farmers’ interest, even though the state is no stranger to droughts.