Droughts in India

Droughts in India

Droughts in India have resulted in tens of millions of deaths over the course of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Indian agriculture is heavily dependent on monsoon rains. A favourable Southwest summer monsoon is critical in securing water for irrigating Indian crops. In some parts of India, the failure of the monsoons result in water shortages, resulting in below-average crop yields. This is particularly true of major drought-prone regions such as Southern and Eastern Maharashtra, Northern Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Gujarat, Telangana and Rajasthan. In this blog we shall study the impact of drought and measures to overcome them.

Impact of Drought 

The impact of droughts in India can be summed up under the following headings: 
Physical Impacts
Drought adversely affects the recharge of soil moisture, surface runoff and groundwater table. Soils dry up, surface runoff is reduced and ground water level is lowered. Rivers, lakes, ponds, reservoirs and wells tend to dry up.
Impact on Agriculture 
60% of Indian agriculture still depends upon monsoon rainfall. The effect is manifested in the shortfall of agricultural production in drought years.
Social and Economic Impact 
Social and economic impact of drought is more severe than the physical and agricultural impacts. A drought is almost invariably associated with famine which has its own social and economic consequences. The greatest impact of drought is seen on the weaker sections of society. These include landless labourers, small marginal farmers and artisans like weavers. They are compelled to go in for distress sale or mortgage their belongings to rich landlords. The money-lenders charge high rate of interest and the inability of the poor to repay the loans compels them to forfeit their mortgaged property. In extreme cases, the indebted poor are forced to commit suicides.

Current Drought Situation in India

According to the government at least 330 million people were affected by drought in India this year alone. Monsoon rains have been poor for two years in a row. Nearly 256 districts across India, home to nearly a quarter of the population were impacted by the drought. Water availability in India’s 91 reservoirs is at its lowest in a decade, with stocks at a paltry 29% of their total storage capacity.  85% of the country’s drinking water comes from aquifers; their levels are also falling.

Government Measures to Combat Drought

Central and state governments have been taking several measures to mitigate impact. Major actions are:

  • The Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA), in collaboration with the State Agricultural Universities, prepared a Contingency Plan for 600 districts to implement location specific interventions to sustain agricultural production.
  • Adequate quantities of drought resistant seeds and seeds of low water intensive crops were made available. The States took various measures like in-situ soil and moisture conservation, micro-irrigation and ground water re-charge. These steps ensured that in spite of two successive droughts, the overall agriculture production has not dipped much and food stocks are adequate.
  • Drinking Water. There are 1.71 million rural habitations in the country. More than 25% of these habitations (441,390) are facing drinking water scarcity.

To address the situation following measures have been taken:

  1. Repair/restoration of 738,650 hand pumps.
  2. Addition of 1,076,961 meters of riser pipe to boreholes in order to access deeper groundwater reserves.

3.  Establishment of 1,398 temporary piped water supply schemes
4. Water trucking through tankers to 15,345 habitations.
5. Hiring of 13,372 private bore wells to augment water supply.
6. Commissioning of 44,498 new bore wells.

  •  The National Food Security Act (NFSA) is in vogue in all the drought affected states. People are receiving food grains at NFSA prescribed rates. Additional allocation of food grains has been made to Maharashtra and Karnataka. The majority of the drought affected states have obtained financial approvals to serve mid-day meals to school children during summer vacations under Mid Day Meal Scheme.
  • Assistance to Farmers.

i Government enhanced the quantum of input subsidy (relief assistance to farmers) provided under State/ National
Disaster Response Fund (SDRF/NDRF) by 50% in April 2015. Further, the norms for assistance were also made more
farmer-friendly by setting the threshold for assistance at a crop loss of 33% or above rather than the earlier threshold of 50%.
Under NDRF, Rs. 10,275 Crore has been released to states, the highest assistance ever provided.
ii   Insurance companies were proactively persuaded to make timely payment of insurance claims. Claims to the excess of Rs.13,000             crore have either been paid or are being settled expeditiously. States have also been requested to send the claims for the
Rabi season urgently.
iii   Government has rolled out a new Crop Insurance Scheme called the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna from Kharif 2016.
The scheme has the lowest ever premium for the Farmer-1.5% for Rabi and 2% for Kharif.  It has also enabled insurance cover to              be provided for various risks that have hitherto been uninsurable. The scheme aims to increase the insurance coverage from 23%              to 50% of the cropped area.

  • MGNREGA has been strengthened as a concerted response to tackle agrarian distress and to meet the demand for work in drought affected areas, creating durable, income generating assets in the process. The entitlement has been expanded from 100 to 150 days of work to households in drought affected regions. More than 20 Lakh households in these regions have availed this opportunity and exceeded 100 days of work. In 2015-16, Rs. 33,000 Crore was initially allocated under MNREGA. This year, the initial allocation is Rs.38,500 Crore, and this will be further augmented based on demand from the states.
  • Livelihood Diversification. Livelihood diversification is an essential part of the drought response strategy. Every block in the drought affected areas is being targeted for intensive work under the Deendayal Antyodaya Mission. This involves risk mitigation through the development of multiple livelihoods and by formation and support of self-help groups.At least eighteen lakh young people from households who have completed 100 days of employment in any of the last two years will undergo skills training through Project LIFE (Livelihood in Full Employment).
  • Water Security and Drought Proofing. Under the Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP), a series of activities have been undertaken to develop rainfed/degraded areas and wastelands. An amount of Rs. 1,064.23 Crore was released during 2015-16 for wasteland related activities.
  • Advice. The government has also been advising the affected states on a series of short and medium term measures to conserve water received during the monsoon period and to better manage the demand for existing water resources. In addition to these central government actions, states have created district level plans which address local issues of availability of drinking water, fodder as well as establishment of cattle camps and provision of food for those in need. For example, Maharashtra has launched the Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan in which village level plans have been prepared to renovate and rejuvenate water bodies to improve water security.


The solutions for solving the recurring problem of droughts in India can be broadly classified into two:

Short Term Solutions:
  • Implement means to curb misuse of water and non-essential consumption of electricity.
  •  Continuous observation of rainfall levels and comparisons with current usage levels can help prevent man-made drought.
  • Collection and storage of rainwater from roofs or other suitable catchments.
  • Planting trees to fight the effects of deforestation.
  • Water intensive crops like sugarcane especially in drought prone areas like Maharashtra need to be reduced and the crop insurance schemes strengthened.
Long Term Solutions:

Desalination. Large-scale desalination is a process through which ocean water is pumped to a treatment facility where the salt is extracted through a process of reverse osmosis to make the water fit for domestic use. It is expensive in energy use and may be harmful for the environment.
Atmospheric Water Generation.There are techniques that have been developed for atmospheric water generation which work in areas where the climate is less conducive to fog.US based Aqua Sciences has developed systems that collect and dispense hundreds to thousands of gallons of water daily by capturing and processing naturally occurring water molecules from the air. They have a contract with the US military and have deployed their 20 foot-long machine in areas such as Haiti and Saudi Arabia, where it has produced 600 gallons of clean water a day.
Waste water Recycling and Conservation. Over a billion gallons of treated wastewater is pumped out into the ocean each year, and this treated wastewater can be perfectly safely recycled for irrigation, toilet flushing, groundwater replenishment, and an array of other uses. Water conservation measures at the administration and individual level are vital as the population rises and so does the need for limited water.
River’s Water Linking Project. The total surface water available to India is nearly 1440 million acre feet. The small storages enable a seventh of the water available in the country to be utilized beneficially.River’s water linking project was started with energy in the Vajpayee regime, but waned under the UPA rule. The project envisages transfer of water from the surplus river basins to ease the water shortages in Western and Southern India while mitigating the impact of recurrent floods in Eastern India. The project would entail building 30 links and some 3000 storages to connect 37 Himalayan and Peninsular rivers. This project would not only greatly reduce the problem of drought but also provide greater power generation and inland water transportation.
Agriculture Research and Right Crops. Agriculture research is required to create drought resistant seeds. The government has to ensure promotion of suitable crops in each region in accordance with water needs.


Droughts in India have been a recurring phenomenon. Unfortunately since independence governments have not done enough to resolve the problem. Short term measures being taken have mitigated the problem to some extent. However, the need is to focus on long term measures to overcome this problem which may increase in future years.

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