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Over 150 Academics And Activists Urge PM To Address India’s Severe Drought Crisis

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By YKA Staff

Editor’s note: One-third of India’s districts are facing severe drought situation. To put it in numbers, no less than 33 crore Indians are currently facing this crisis. Lakhs of farmers, especially in Maharashtra have had to deal with major losses and debt, many being forced to commit suicide. More than 150 academics and activists have penned the following open letter addressed to the Prime Minister, expressing their concerns over the impact this water shortage is having on the country, and the damage it could make to the rural areas. They urge the central government to take immediate steps to provide relief.

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

Buffalos graze in dried-up Chandola Lake in Ahmedabad, India, March 30, 2016. REUTERS/Amit Dave TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSCTU5
Source: REUTERS/Amit Dave

We wish to convey our deep collective anxiety about the enormous suffering of the rural poor in large parts of India’s countryside as they are battling drought, often for the second or even third consecutive year. In areas where rains have failed, farmers who depend mainly on rainwater to irrigate their crops have no or very low crop yields. Those who rely on irrigation are also affected, with groundwater sinking and streams and reservoirs drying up. All this adds to chronic agrarian distress reflected in a massive slowdown in agricultural growth during the last few years, with no imminent signs of recovery.

The consequence of this adversity is massive distress movement of populations, causing broken childhoods, interrupted education, life in camps, city pavements or crowded shanties. Add to this the old and the infirm who are left behind, to beg for food or just quietly die. The cattle for whom there is no fodder, sold at distress prices or just abandoned to fend for themselves. And the drying up even of sources of water to drink.

However, the response of central and state administrations to looming drought is sadly listless, lacking in both urgency and compassion. The scale of MGNREGA works is way below what is required and wages often remain unpaid for months. Even more gravely, the central and state governments are doing far too little to implement the National Food Security Act, three years after it came into force. Had the Act been in place, more than 80% of rural households in the poorer states would be able to secure about half of their monthly cereal requirements almost free of cost. In a drought situation food security entitlements should be made universal.

In addition, we find no plans in most of the drought-hit regions for feeding the destitute, especially old persons left behind when families migrate, children without care-givers, the disabled and other vulnerable groups. ICDS centres could have been upgraded to supply emergency feeding to the destitute during the drought, but this has not happened. Under Supreme Court orders, school meals should be served on all days, including holidays, in drought-affected areas, but this is rarely the case. Arrangements to augment drinking water supply, including ensuring that marginalised hamlets have functioning tube-wells and transporting water where necessary, are awfully inadequate. There are also few attempts to create fodder banks and cattle camps. Most of these measures used to be a routine part of state response to drought, and were often undertaken with a great sense of urgency, but they are barely being considered today.

The highest priority of the central government in a drought situation should be to ensure the creation of millions of additional person-days of work in all affected villages. Instead, the government has not even allocated enough funds this year to sustain the level of employment generated last year – 233 crore person-days according to official data. At current levels of expenditure per person-day, this would cost well over 50,000 crore rupees. Yet the central government has allocated just 38,500 crore rupees to MGNREGA this year, of which more than 12,000 crore rupees are required to clear pending liabilities. These liabilities only prove the distress crores of workers have been put through because of wages left unpaid for months at a time. Unemployment allowance and mandatory compensation for delayed wage payments are also not paid, citing “insufficient funds”, resulting in a failure of the Act, and its legal safeguards. Most alarming today, is that instead of expanding, MGNREGA is all set to contract in this critical drought year, unless financial allocations are vastly expanded.

The enormous distress – of food, drinking water, work, fodder for animals, and dignity – of hundred of millions is utterly unacceptable. We demand that the central government under your leadership acknowledges these failures and makes rapid amends, by implementing all the traditional relief measures as well as by ensuring full implementation of the National Food Security Act 2013 and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 in letter and spirit.

[su_spoiler title=”Signatories” icon=”arrow”]Aruna Roy, senior activist, Rajasthan
Jean Dreze, Economist
Jayati Ghosh, Economist
Harsh Mander, Activist, Writer
Satish Deshpande, Academic, Sociologist
Deep Joshi, senior environmentalist and water activist
Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Emeritus, Economist, Senior academician
Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, Senior Economist
Vijay Vyas, Professor Emeritus, Senior Economist
Utsa Patnaik, Professor and Senior Economist
Arundhati Roy, Writer
Admiral Ramdas, former Chief of Naval Staff
Lalita Ramdas, activist, Maharashtra
Naseeruddin Shah, Actor
Brinda Karat, Women’s leader, Politician
Medha Patkar, Activist, politician, women’s leader
Shabana Azmi, Actor
Kavitha Kuruganti, Activist, leader of farmer’s groups
Nivedita Menon, Academic
Nandita Das, actor
Mukul Kesavan, writer
Leela Samson, dancer
Ashok Vajpeyi, writer
Justice Rajinder Sachar, senior jurist
Syeda Hameed, women’s leader, former member Planning Commission
Shyam Benegal, filmmaker
Himanshu Thakkar, environmentalist
Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Information Commissioner
Deepak Sandhu, former Chief Information Commissioner
Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner
Uma Chakravarty, historian
Ritwick Dutta, environmental legal activist
Trilochan Shastry, academic
Jagdeep Chhokar, academic
Advocate Vrinda Grover
Nandini Sundar, Sociologist
Shekhar Singh, RTI activist
Amar Kanwar, filmmaker
Prof C.P.Chandrasekhar, labour economist
Dilip Simeon, academic
Prithvi Sharma, activist, also on behalf of ICAN
Maja Daruwala, senior human rights activist
Mathew Cherian, Helpage
M. Krishna, Musician, Writer
Anand Patwardhan, filmmaker
Lalit Mathur, former civil servant
Kavita Srivastava, PUCL, Rajasthan
Anjali Bhardwaj, RTI activist
Achin Vinayak, academic and activist, Delhi
Ram Rehman, photographer
Pamela Philipose, journalist
A.Gandhi , academic
Rita Anand, senior journalist
Nirmala Lakshman, senior journalist
Tripurari Sharma, Drama and Theater, playright
Harsh Sethi, writer
Madhu Bhaduri, former diplomat
Sharmila Tagore, Actor
Amitabh Mukhopadhyay, former auditor, CAG
Mridula Mukherjee, historian
Aditya Mukherjee, historian
Amita Baviskar, academic
Arundhati Dhuru, activist, UP
Kavita Krishnan, activist, leader of women’s groups
Reetika Khera, Economist
Sanjay Kak, filmmaker
Baba Adhav, labour leader
Achyut Das, activist, Odisha
Ajit Ranade, economist
Kalpana Kannabiran, sociologist, lawyer
Vasanth Kannabiran, teacher and activist,
Andhra Paul Divakar, dalit activist
Abha Sur, writer, academic
Rajni Bakshi, writer
Ravi Chopra, activist, Uttarakhand
Neelabh Mishra, writer
Poornima Chikarmane, Pune
Zoya Hasan , academic, political scientist
Shabnam Hashmi, activist
Rebecca John, academic
Anandalakshmy, academic
Smita Gupta, Economist, Head of economic cell, AIDWA
Praveen Jha, Economist
Gautam Navlakha, senior activist
Venkatesh Nayak, RTI activist
Seema Mustafa, journalist, editor, The Citizen
Bela Bhatia, academic
Bezwada Wilson, senior activist
Haragopal, academic
Sumit Chakravarty, Editor, Mainstream
Gargi Chakravarty, Women’s activist
Patricia Uberoi Kamal Chenoy, senior academic
Janaki Nair, academic
Vipul Mudgal, journalist
Deepa Sinha, Right to Food activist
Himanshu, activist
Uma Pillai, former civil servant
Nikhil Dey, activist, Rajasthan
N.Rath, academic
Abey George, academic
Mahesh Pandya, ICAN
Jyothi Krishnan, academic
Balram, activist, Jharkhand
AL Rangarajan, ICAN
Rajaram Singh
Rameshwar Prasad, ICAN
Anand Murugesan, academic
Abha Bhaiya, women’s activist
Sagar Rabari, activist, Gujarat
Dhirendhra Singh
Rammanohar Reddy, former editor EPW, senior writer
Nandini K Oza, water activist, Maharasthra
Osama Manzar, Digital Empowerment Foundation
Rakesh Sharma
Pankti Jog, RTI activist
Rakesh Reddy
Dubbudu, RTI activist, Telangana
Subrat Das, economist
Umesh Anand, editor, Civil Society
Charul, singer, cultural activist
Vinay, singer, writer, musician, activist
Maya Caroli
Ashwini Kulkarni, activist, Pune
Vibha Puri Das
Surjit Das
Amrita Johri, RTI activist
Madhuresh Kumar, activist
Ankur Sarin
Dipak Dholakia
Navdeep Mathur
Harinesh, activist, Gujarat
Persis Ginwalla
Shamsul Islam, theatre activist
Prafulla Samantara, activist, Odisha
Lingraj Azad, activist, Odisha
Sunilam, activist, Madhya Pradesh
Aradhana Bhargava
Meera Chaudhary, activist
Suniti SR, activist, Pune
Suhas Kolhekar, activist Pune
Prasad Bagwe
Gabrielle Dietrich, leader of Women’s groups
Geetha Ramakrishnan, activist Tamil Nadu
R. Neelkandan
P Chennaiah, activist Telangana
Ramakrishnan Raju, activist, Andhra
Richa Singh, activist, Uttar Pradesh
Sister Cella
Vimal Bhai, activist, Himachal Pradesh
Jabar Singh, activist
Anand Mazgaonkar
Krishnakanth Kamayani Swami, activist, Bihar
Ashish Ranjan, activist
Mahendra Yadav, activist
Faisal Khan, activist, Haryana
JS Walla
Kailash Meena, activist, Rajasthan
Amitava Mitra
Aveek Saha
BS Rawat
Rajendra Ravi
Shabnam Shaikh
Mahesh Pandya
S. Shylendra
Iqbalkhan Pulli
Soumen Ray
Ramachandra Prasad, ICAN
Ravi M. Dipak Dholakia [/su_spoiler]

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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