GS1: Important Geophysical phenomena and changes in critical geographical features


What is the issue?

  • Apparently, about 40% of the country is facing an acute paucity of pre-monsoon rain, causing severe water distress in scorching heat.


  • Rain fed agriculture contributes to 60 per cent of the value of agriculture GDP of India.
  • About 61 per cent of India’s farmers rely on rain-fed agriculture and 55 per cent of the gross cropped area is under rain-fed farming.
  • Rainfed crops account for 48 percent area under food crops and 68 percent under non-food crops.
  • India ranks first among the rainfed agricultural countries of the world in terms of both extent and value of produce.
  • Due to population pressure on agricultural lands, the poverty is concentrated in rainfed regions.
  • Despite all these, rain-fed areas contributed significantly to the country’s food production.
  • They account for 89 per cent of millets production, 88 per cent of pulses, 73 per cent of cotton, 69 per cent of oilseeds and 40 per cent rice production in the country.

Water scarcity profile of India

  • India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and millions of lives and livelihoods are under threat.
  • Currently, 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress and about two lakh people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water.
  • By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual ~6% loss in the country’s GDP.


Rain deficit scenario in India

  • Though summer droughts are very common, the extent and intensity of aridity witnessed this year are rare.
  • The rain deficit has been as high as 48% in the southern peninsula, especially Tamil Nadu and coastal Karnataka.
  • It is nearly 30% in western India, notably Gujarat and large parts of Maharashtra, and 17% and 12% in the Central and north-east region respectively.
  • Shortfalls of 70 to 80% have also been reported from some places.
  • The overall countrywide average rainfall between March and May, 2019 remained 23% below normal.

Monsoon forecasts indications

  • The rain deficit conditions across the country are a matter of grave concern.
  • But the redeeming factor is that the onset of the monsoon is round the corner.
  • The rain during the 4-month monsoon season (June to September) is anticipated to be well spread out.
  • It is also expected to be quantitatively normal or somewhat below normal.
  • The India Meteorological Department (IMD) forecast has suggested rainfall to be likely around 96% of the long-period average (LPA).
  • On the other hand, private weather forecaster Skymet has put it at 91%.

Persisting concerns

  • The problem is that both IMD and Skymet have forecast that the monsoon would be sluggish/slow to begin with.
  • The reason cited for this is the existence of El Nino (warming up of the Pacific Ocean), which often impairs the monsoon performance.
  • Also, IMD and Skymet differ on the progression of El Nino.
  • The IMD expects El Nino conditions to turn neutral in the second half of the rainy season.
  • But Skymet reckons it to last the whole season, even if in a weaker form.
  • So clearly, there is a possible delay in relief from the current water crisis in some areas.

Government initiatives against erratic monsoon

  • NITI Aayog’s composite water management Index (CWMI) is a major step towards creating a culture of database decision-making for water in India, which can encourage ‘competitive and cooperative federalism’ in the country’s water governance and management.
  • The NDMA guidelines on management of drought are issued in 2010.
  • National River linking programmes is also give an impetus to the government plan to fight against erratic monsoon.
  • There was a policy bias against farmers working in rain-fed systems, the latest move of giving income support to farmers, however little it may be, is a progressive step.

Favourable factors

  • Of the three main facets of drought (meteorological, hydrological, agricultural), the present conditions conform chiefly to the meteorological drought (rainfall inadequacy).
  • Only in some areas, aridity has accentuated to cause hydrological drought, reflected in exhaustion of the surface and groundwater resources.
  • The overall hydrological profile of the country is still positive.
  • The total water stock in 91 major reservoirs monitored by the Central Water Commission is around 14% above the last year’s corresponding level.
  • It is 3% higher than the long-period average (May, 2019 data).
  • Agricultural drought has, by and large, been averted as the rabi crops have mostly been harvested and the kharif ones are yet to be planted.

Issues with the rain fed agriculture in India

  • A clear-cut bias towards irrigated areas when it comes to public investment in agriculture in the country.
  • Unsuitable programme design has ensured that potential of rain-fed areas remains unrealised.
  • Rainfall is highly unreliable, both in time and space, with strong risks of dry spells at critical growth stages even during good rainfall years.
  • Rainfed areas in India are highly diverse, ranging from resource rich areas to resource-constrained areas.
  • growing farm suicides in rainfed areas.
  • Green Revolution bypassed the less-favored rainfed areas which were not the partners in this process of agricultural transformation.

Way forward

  • An enduring solution to the recurring water crisis largely lies in drought-proofing the vulnerable areas.
  • In-situ conservation of rainwater should be a key priority in this regard.
  • The need is to construct rainwater-harvesting structures at the field, village and watershed levels.
  • Either digging ponds or putting up check dams at suitable sites on the natural water drainage routes should be taken up.
  • This is a time-tested water management practice that has helped people survive even in the chronically arid areas.
  • Piecemeal measures as isolated water conservation works under the rural employment programmes can, at best, offer only limited gains.
  • So what is needed is a broad-based planning, keeping in view the whole watershed, transgressing village, district or even state boundaries.

#Practice Question

  1. Do you think Rain fed farmers are the most neglected in the country? Analyse the reasons for this neglect towards farmers throughout the ages. (200 words)
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