Daily Editorials for UPSC IAS Exam Preparation

Editorial Today – Drought: Challenges and the way ahead

Issue About ongoing drought

What is drought A period of below-average precipitation

Causes of drought Overexploitation and natural

Effect of droughts Weaken ecosystem and causes devastation

Types of drought Meteorological, Agricultural, Hydrological and Socioeconomic drought

Analysis SC accorded highest priority to this case.

Paisewari system Method to determine crop failure

Need of the hour  Time to shift to a new framework based on citizen entitlements

Laxity in its operationalisation Non fulfilment of  many of  statutory obligations by the government.

Using the MGNREGS Scheme could have been one of the most efficient drought relief measures.

Short and long term relief demanded by the petitioner Invoked Right to Life under Article 21 to claim some immediate drought relief measures and also removing the informal cap on MGNREGS.



It is about ongoing Nationwide drought in the country. But the irony is that it is the apex court of the country, and not its Parliament, that has found time to pay attention to serious issues of drought relief and mitigation.


What is drought

A drought is a period of below-average precipitation in a given region, resulting in prolonged shortages in its water supply, whether atmospheric, surface water or ground water.


Causes of droughts

Drought is the combined result of the neglect and over exploitation of common environmental resources, essentially the systems that provided a cushion against the problem caused by dry periods. Thus causes of droughts are:

  • Overexploitation of forests, Grazing lands, ground water,
  • Neglect of tanks
  • Inequitable distribution of canal irrigation water.

Natural causes of drought

  • Reduced rainfall results in drought
  • Occurs because water vapour not brought by air currents to right areas at right times
  • El Nino causes droughts in Asia.
  • Mountain prevent wind from blowing moisture to needy region


Effect of drought

  • Drought can weaken an ecosystem by stressing plant and animal resources.
  • Flora and Fauna not able to find adequate resources are more vulnerable to predation and diseases.
  • Dry condition can increase not just the number but the severity of fires.
  • Drought of itself is a devastating event leading to crop loss and possible topsoil loss.


Types of drought

There are some indicators that experts use to determine if a condition can be called a drought. These indicators help local authorities, states or governments use to plan and release appropriate relief resources to affected areas. Besides those, here are some common scenarios of droughts:

Meteorological drought: This kind is usually determined by the general lack of moisture in the weather such as lack of precipitation, and the play of other weather conditions such as dry winds, high temperatures and so on. It is expressed in relation to the average conditions of the region over a long period of time. It is usually an indicator of potential water crisis if the condition is prolonged. Meteorological drought can begin and end immediately.

Agricultural drought: This is when atmospheric moisture is reduced to the extent that soil moisture is affected. Here, crops and animals are affected and evapotranspiration is also affected. It is often the signs one sees when a meteorological drought is at play, but not before a hydrological drought.

Hydrological drought: This is when there is a deficiency of surface water and ground water supply in a region, often as a result of less precipitation, excessive reliance on surface water for farming, energy and other needs. Hydrological drought does not usually occur at the same time as meteorological drought. In a way, this decline in the quantity and quality of surface and sub-surface water is the effect of meteorological drought.

Socioeconomic drought: This condition is when some supply of some goods and services such as energy, food and drinking water are reduced or threatened by changes in meteorological and hydrological conditions. Sometimes it is even made worse by growing populations and excessive demands of such goods, to the point that it creates stress on the little water available. It takes a very long time for this kind of drought to get into full gear, and a long time to recover from it.



  • In an extraordinary gesture, the apex court of the land accorded highest priority to this case related to drought condition.
  • The case is historic in the sense that it involves wide range and nature of question.
  • Starting as a petition for immediate drought relief, this case has grown into a judicial review of the state policy on rural distress and agrarian crisis.
  • During the British Raj, documents called Famine Codes laid down how the government was to act during famine-like conditions. The colonial approach was, naturally, minimalist and stingy. The idea was to spend as little money as possible while avoiding loss of lives.
  • But even after independence the approach of the administration seem that famine codes continued in one form or the other though some improvement is done through various schemes like MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme), Public Distribution System and Mid Day Meal scheme.
  • Governmental practices continued to be archaic and conservative even though advanced technologies are available for forecasting and tracking droughts. The patwari continues to be the eye of the government; ‘annawari’ or ‘paisawari’ is still the method to determine crop failure and the farmers continue to be paid ridiculously low amounts as crop-loss compensation, and that too after delays and bribes.


Paisewari system

It is originally referred to as annewari.

Paisewari literally means ‘value of the crop’. In every village, prior to the harvest of the kharif crop in October, the tehsildar, in cooperation with officials from the Department of Agriculture and local farmers, estimate the crop grown. A plot is chosen and the crop yield is measured. If the crop growth percentage is less than 50 per cent (of the average of 10 years) then that is considered a drought year.


Need of the hour

  • It was time to shift to a new framework based on citizen entitlements, fuller responsibilities of the constitutional governments for drought relief, emphasis on drought mitigation and elimination of arbitrariness and political patronage from drought declaration and relief operations.
  • According to experts some of this framework is already in place
  • The country has a Disaster Management Act of 2005 that gives special powers and responsibilities to the Central government.
  • We now have a National Disaster Management Authority headed by the Prime Minister.
  • The Manual of Drought Management of 2009, a comprehensive document issued by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Union government, can replace the archaic Famine Codes.
  • Finally, all the weather station and remote sensing-sourced data has been brought together in the form of Agricultural Drought Assessment Report issued for major States every month by the Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre.
  • But someone needs to bring all this together and operationalise it.


Laxity in its operationalisation

  • Central government itself conceded that it had not fulfilled many of its statutory obligations.
  • The National Disaster Policy required under the Disaster Management Act did not exist.
  • The Disaster Mitigation Fund proposed under the same Act has not been created.
  • The National Disaster Response Force did not have any expertise to deal with the drought.
  •  It also admitted that the Centre had delayed releasing assistance to States under the National Disaster Response Fund.


Using the MGNREGS

This scheme could have been one of the most efficient drought relief measures and should have been used generously during the last two years.


Short and long term relief demanded by the petioner

First, it invoked Right to Life under Article 21 to claim some immediate drought relief measures for six months in the drought-affected areas: universal access to food-grain quota, additional 2 kg of dal and one litre of edible oil for each household (following the Tamil Nadu model), one egg or glass of milk everyday in the mid-day meal and extension of the scheme during summer vacations. It has also argued for implementation of the drought manual on drinking water and fodder, especially its recommendation of reservation for drinking water and setting up of cattle camps.

The second set of relief sought is medium to long term. This involves removing the informal cap on MGNREGS and ensuring adequate funds for employment generation, especially during the drought; restructuring of farm loans on the same lines as the famous restructuring of corporate loans; and raising crop-loss compensation to cover at least the cost of cultivation.

Finally, the petitioners have pleaded for a change in the archaic and arbitrary practices of declaration of drought and fixing the responsibilities of the Central and State governments in handling a disaster of this kind. It has urged the court to appoint independent commissioners to monitor the implementation of court orders.

The judgment has been reserved by the Supreme Court and is expected any day.








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