Mr Frog weds Ms Frog

Forget the floods, 22 districts of Assam are reeling with drought. While the earth cracks, people are into witchcraft. But the gods are not pleased 

Ravishankar Ravi Guwahati

 

This year’s drought in Assam, a state with so many rivers including the mighty Brahamaputra, has exposed the state government. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi does not even know that how much money the state has lost due to the massive destruction of crops. The Assam government has declared 22 districts as ‘almost like’ drought.

To cope with the drought, Rs 295 crore will be given by the Centre, of which Rs 33 crore has been distributed. The state government has, for the time being, agreed to release Rs 40 crore for the farmers, which is terribly inadequate. What is of concern is that the government, instead of urgently declaring the districts as drought-affected, has instead chosen to play with metaphors, arguing that the situation seems almost like drought. If the government had declared the districts as drought-affected, the farmers would have got a better deal.

Gogoi claims only 20 per cent of the crops have been destroyed, but grassroots figures tell a different tale. He has, however, agreed that crops in six lakh hectare has been destroyed due to the absence of rain. This year there was no rice harvest in Assam, consequently, there is a severe shortage of seeds. Assam is desperately seeking seeds from other states for the kharif season. The state government and the Centre have each announced one per cent subsidy on loans. The chief minister is not even aware of the amount spent on agricultural projects in the last 20 years. The truth is that not one agricultural project has proved to be successful. Now the authorities are talking of ‘maintenance’ of the old, mostly failed projects.

Drought and ‘no floods’ are shocking news for a state where floods arrive six months in a year. This might seem amazing, but the betrayal by the monsoon and low rainfall has created an emergency-like situation in 22 of the 26 districts and the trauma and consequences of severe drought, starvation and mass deprivation are haunting the people, especially the poorest. In Assam, the monsoon arrives between April and October, and at an average floods come three times. But this time, forget the floods, there was not even a drop of water. In June, four districts had some semblance of floods, but even a drizzle seemed illusionary in most places. Indeed, expectations are still high for the month of October, but the absence of rain has spelt destruction of the crops.

What is uncanny is that this grim scenario has spread beyond Assam into the entire Northeast. Assam witnessed only 33 per cent rainfall, Arunachal Pradesh 47 per cent, Meghalaya, 41 per cent – whereas ‘Meghalaya’ literally means ‘residence of the clouds’. Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura had only 59 cm rainfall, whereas the minimum requirement is 77 cm. There is unprecedented and incredible heat and humidity and Assam’s temperature broke all records and hit as high as 38 degree Celcius in 15 years. The spokesperson of the Assam government and Health Minister, Dr Himanta Vishwasharma, said that only after observing the ground situation 22 districts were notified as facing drought-like conditions. He has agreed that farmers and agricultural labourers might face starvation in the days to come. For them, food for work programmes are being organised. Besides, the absence of rainfall has created a power crisis with long spells of power-cuts which have disrupted normal life, including industry.

There are three crops in a year here, and the main one is that of rice. The people are therefore totally dependent on rain. Mostly, during this season in Assam, there is sharp sunshine for two or three days, and then sudden and heavy rains, which evens out the moderately high temperature. But this time no such miracle happened. That is why in most areas the rice crop is rapidly drying up and the earth is cracking.

According to Agriculture Minister Promila Rani Brahma, crops in 26,000 hectare have been destroyed. She said that the government was

prepared to face the floods, but the drought has turned all plans upside down. The agriculture ministry has asked for Rs 2 crore from the

finance ministry to procure diesel for the farmers. But due to scarcity of water the farmers are not able to plant even saplings. Helpless farmers are now resorting to witchcraft and superstitious rituals. In some places frogs are being married in public functions. To appease Indra, the god of rain, Baba Kalidas Dahal did a week-long Chandi Path (the worship of Kali) at the famous Kamakhya temple in Guwahati. But the gods refuse to be pleased.