Amid drought, a political slugfest in Karnataka
During a year of unprecedented drought, which has accentuated the agricultural crisis in Karnataka, the political response to the farmers’ economic distress has come under the scanner.
This year, the south west monsoon was one of the worst in recent years. The State was left with a 25% rainfall deficiency as it received 642 mm of rain against the normal of 852 mm between June 1 and October 31. Rainfall was skewed. Rainfall was neither uniformly distributed nor timely. This resulted in crop loss and a decline in yield.
The cumulative storage in the major reservoirs was 452.91 thousand million cubic (TMC) feet against the gross storage capacity of 895.62 TMC ft (50.56% of the installed capacity) as on November 17. The crop loss has been pegged at more than ₹30,000 crore. Though the Congress government has declared 223 taluks out of 236 as drought-affected, the farmers are peeved that it has not announced any drought-relief measures to attenuate their hardship.
The Opposition comprising the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Janata Dal (Secular) continue to be in confrontational mode. They have faulted the State government for prioritising the implementation of the five guarantee schemes — Gruha Jyothi (200 units of free electricity to every household), Gruha Lakshmi (₹2,000 to woman household-head in the BPL or below poverty line category), Anna Bhagya (10 kilogrammes of rice to each person in the BPL category), Yuvanidhi (₹3,000 and ₹1,500 for unemployed graduates and diploma holders, respectively), and Shakti (free bus travel for women in public buses) — that will cost the exchequer nearly ₹58,000 crore per annum. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah in turn questioned the Opposition’s “deafening silence”. He said that BJP MPs have not argued Karnataka’s case before the Prime Minister or secured funds for drought relief. In fact, the guarantees are providing succour in a drought year, he argued.
Instead of engaging with the government on providing relief to the drought-affected people or highlighting the hardship of the farmers, the BJP and the JD(S) are accused of raking up trivial subjects which divert attention from drought.
Over the last few days, former Chief Minister and JD (S) leader H.D. Kumaraswamy has been levelling allegations of corruption against the government based on a short video in which Yathindra, son of Mr. Siddaramaiah, is seen issuing instructions over phone. Though the conversation in the video clip lacks any context, the Opposition sought to implicate Mr. Siddaramaiah by arguing that Mr. Yathindra’s conversation revolved around cash-for-posting. The Congress strongly rebuffed this allegation. The Opposition also speaks every now and then of the “imminent collapse” of the government “within six months” or of a change of Chief Minister, in an attempt to needle the Congress. This resulted in another round of rebuttal from the ruling party.
The Congress, meanwhile, mocked the BJP’s drought study tour. Dubbing it a “photo opportunity”, it said that a Central government team had already conducted a tour.
While the Centre has undeniably delayed the release of funds to provide for drought relief, the State government has come under flak for not being proactive by announcing a few policy measures to help farmers. This includes announcing support price for drought-tolerant crops such as millets and jowar, backed by an assured purchase mechanism for distribution under the Anna Bhagya scheme. Such a policy initiative would have also encouraged farmers to cultivate millets and jowar and bailed them out of their financial distress to a considerable extent. Besides, it would have discouraged farmers from growing paddy or sugarcane, which are water-guzzling crops. The political establishment should also have spent time discussing climate change, which has altered rainfall patterns, and prepared farmers to deal with it.
But none of this has been touched upon; instead, a political slugfest involving the release of funds along with a host of allegations and counter-allegations have taken precedence over the actual handling of drought. The unending acerbic war of words between the Congress and the Opposition alliance is set to echo in the winter session of the State Assembly that will be held in Belagavi from the first week of December.
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