54 crore Indians in grip of drought: Swaraj Abhiyan

New Delhi, May 1 (IANS) Over 54 crore people living in 13 states in India are in the grip of drought, but official figures fail to recognise those affected even after over six months of drought, activist Yogendra Yadav said on Sunday.

Yadav said that despite the water crisis, not a single village in Bihar and Haryana has been declared drought-affected.

“The government informed the Supreme Court that some 36.6 crore people were affected by the drought. But on counting the unlisted regions, over 54 crore people were found affected by it,” Yadav said at the National Consultation on Drought held by CSE and Swaraj Abhiyan.

“Drought has been there for more than six months, but it was only noticed after drinking water crisis struck some urban centres and a high profile petition effected cricket. Drought is not just a drinking water crisis in some urban centres,” Yadav said.

Many areas in Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh have been hit by drought since the last 19 months.

To a query from IANS, Yadav said that even after a supportive monsoon this year, it would take at least till October-November to resolve the food crisis in drought-hit regions like Bundelkhand and Marathwada.

“People are battling for drinking water. Food is frugal. Thirsty and hungry domestic cattle have been released and are dying nomadic deaths. Farms are fallow. Life and livelihood have come to a standstill,” the consultation report said.

Yadav along with other activists Sunilam and Avik Saha hit out at the political system for not realising the depth of the situation.

“Through 14 hearings that went on for 40 hours, the time Supreme Court gave to Swaraj Abhiyan to discuss and understand drought is much more than what parliament and state assemblies in total have given to the entire issue,” Yadav said.

He raised concerns over recognition of other regions like Telangana, Bihar, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh also as drought hit.

Farmers who came from drought-hit regions also narrated their ordeal.

“We grow cotton and the output had fallen by 70 percent. There is no fodder for cattle and over 500 people have committed suicide, while official figures are way low.

“We have the biggest dam but no water. The worst affected people are tenant farmers, as only 3 percent of them are recognised and the rest never even receive the compensation which is very low anyway,” said a farmer from Telangana.

Farmers also said it was difficult to work under MGNREGA, as the digging soil become tough due to the hardness of soil around drought.

Swaraj Abhiyan had filed a petition in the Supreme Court demanding assurance for at least six months of free ration to drought-hit families, continuation of mid-day meals in those areas during summer breaks and compensation to the farmers at par with their investments.

“For the past two years, crops fell. Poor people need employment but even the MGNREGA was strangled,” Yadav said.

On the budget cut in MGNREGA, Yadav said that against the requirement of Rs.78 crore, only Rs.38 crore was sanctioned by the central government for MGNREGA.

“This estimation had been made through official reports and assessments,” Yadav said.

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