Dealing with monsoons
After the prolonged spell of the heatwave, it is the monsoon that is tormenting people across the length and breadth of the country. According to the Home Ministry data, 537 people have lost their lives in the rains and floods in six states. The maximum number of deaths have occurred in Maharashtra where 139 people have lost their lives, followed by Kerala (126), West Bengal (116), Uttar Pradesh (70), Gujarat (52), and Assam (34). Apart from the loss of these many human lives, the floods and heavy monsoon rains have also caused massive destruction of private and public property. The death toll and the destruction of property are likely to mount as the monsoon intensifies and progresses to other states. In Delhi, the Yamuna is flowing above the danger mark and people living in the low-lying areas are being shifted to safer places. In flood-hit states, National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams have been deployed to rescue the people trapped in the deluge. Monsoon is said to be the lifeline of Indian economy as it supports agricultural activities in most part of the country by providing the much-needed water for irrigation of agricultural fields. The long spell of rain especially suits the paddy crop. The moisture retained in the fields and the excess water stored in ponds and other water bodies help grow the other staple crops in winters such as wheat and pulses. The entire agricultural cycle in India is dependent on monsoon rains. If the monsoon is good and balanced, the agricultural output is good. A good harvest is of critical significance as it ensures that there is enough food for the majority of the people living in the countryside where the public distribution system is either non-existent or few and far between. The monsoon and the agricultural activities associated with it provide food security to a vast majority of the people. Scanty monsoon rains is a catastrophic situation as that would result in price hike of staple foods across the country besides creating a shortage of food in the countryside. It is for this reason, the monsoon is awaited with great zeal and hope. But the excessive water that it brings also causes a number of problems including floods and diseases. That after 70 years of self-rule, India could not devise an effective mechanism to manage the excess water that every monsoon brings is a sad commentary on the development model that the country has pursued so far. Thousands of lives are lost every year during the monsoon in floods and diseases. Still, we have not thought of damage control measures that see a timely evacuation of people from the danger zones or storing the excess water in canals and ponds especially created for the purpose. The government spends thousands of crores of rupees every year to bring life back to normal after every monsoon. The floods render agricultural fields useless besides damaging vital infrastructure such as roads, bridges, electricity supply lines. The damage caused during the monsoon takes an entire year to get back to normal and by the time it's time for another monsoon. Due to lack of imagination and efficiency of the governments to manage the monsoon waters in a productive manner, a parallel system has evolved that feeds on the government money meant for flood-control measures and relief and rehabilitation of the victims. Apart from dropping food packets and distribution of ration for a few days, the victims are left to fend for themselves amid charges of corruption. This is an extremely deplorable state of affair as far as the country's preparedness to welcome the monsoon is concerned.
In view of the importance of monsoon in sustaining the livelihood of a large section of the population and its contribution to overall GDP, which is nearly 17 per cent, the government needs to attach greater significance to this annual bonanza. Sending NDRF teams to rescue trapped people and then signing cheques worth thousands of crores of rupees that brings no permanent benefit or solution is not the way a country where agriculture is the mainstay of the economy should deal with the monsoon. The farming communities who despite the odds, stay on their farms and take part in agricultural activities should be rewarded for their courage and commitment. Their crops and livestock should be insured so that they do not fall in financial trouble after the monsoon. Similarly, the government should either offer a life insurance to all the farmers living in flood-prone zones or pay suitable compensation to those who die due to the floods or excessive rains. Instead of leaving them at the mercy of vicissitudes of nature, the farming community should be provided necessary training to deal with the monsoon and the many problems that it brings.