With wells and hand-pumps drying up and ponds disappearing, the receding water table has led more than 43.4% of India reeling under drought, according to the Drought Early Warning System. With water riots beginning in many parts of the country, the Modi government is reorienting its flagship rural employment guarantee scheme, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), towards water conservation by reserving at least 75% of 2.58 billion person days generated during 2019-20 to boost water storage and agricultural activities in the country. The Centre has also targeted completing one million natural resource management (NRM) projects linked to water during its first 100 days. In terms of funds, 74% of MGNREGS funds have been earmarked for water management in FY19-20, up from 63% in FY18-19.
While the funds have gone up, It is worth looking into the progress made in 2018-19.
The MIS data obtained from the MGNREGA site for the year 2018-2019 suggests that out of the total 86,000 projects undertaken for water conservation and harvesting, drought proofing and micro irrigation works, only 16% of the projects were related to drought.
Out of the 86,000 projects, 20,000 were focused on the renovation of traditional water bodies and around the same amount was focused on drought proofing. According to data collated by the Ministry of Rural Development, which monitors implementation of the MGNREGS, 7.9 lakh works costing Rs 417 crore remain incomplete or suspended; while about 27,000 works have been completed. The MIS data also shows that there is little focus on anti-drought measures, including water conservation, revival of traditional water bodies, plantation and micro irrigation works.
Also read: #DroughtDistress: Possible Monsoon Delay in Maharashtra, Says IMD
Following the severity of the drought, the government had called for a provision of additional employment over and above 100 days per household. The government had declared, “Under section 3 (4) of the MGNREGA to provide for 50 days of additional employment in the financial year 2018-2019. On the analysis of data it was found that across the country, over 70 lakh households demanded employment in the drought affected region. Of this, 63 lakh households were actually given employment while 8 lakh households were left out.” It is important to note that out of the ones receiving employment only 9 lakh households received a total of 100 days of employment, while only 7 lakh managed to receive 150 days of employment as promised by the government. The households that need employment and support from the state span across a 105 districts, covering about 30,000 panchayats, nearly 12% of the panchayats in all of India. These districts are witnessing drought triggered by failure of south-west monsoon, the frequency of which is now increasing in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra, among a few other states.
While the central government has not declared drought anywhere so far, the state governments of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha and Rajasthan have declared many of their districts as drought-hit. About 42% of India’s land area is facing drought, with 6% exceptionally dry – four times the spatial extent of drought last year.
Amid the crisis, data from the MGNREGA site reveals clear inadequacies in Modi government’s ambitious plan to reorient the scheme for water conservation. It also raises serious questions on the political will of the government to solve the water crisis looming large in the country.