The spectre of drought is looming large in Odisha. The monsoon season has entered its last leg and over 210 out of 314 blocks in the state have reported deficit rainfall, leaving farmers in the throes of despair. Over 20 districts have faced low rain while crops in 47 blocks stand damaged in one form or the other. The year has turned out to be one of the worst in terms of amount of rain. The IMD data says the state’s rainfall shortage thus far is the highest in the last two decades. Between June 1 and August 31, it registered 661 mm rain against the normal showers of 935 mm. This is only the sixth occasion in 120 years when the Southwest monsoon has been 29% scant in Odisha. August, a key month for kharif activities, has seen particularly harsh weather, with over 44% rainfall deficit. As a result, agricultural operations like transplantation and subsequent activities have been held up across pockets. The farming community has been under the weather almost every year. Be it flood, cyclone or drought, the farmers have taken the hit. This year has not been any different.
For the Naveen Patnaik government, it brings a sense of deja vu. Ever since he took over the reins of the state in 2000, the BJD boss has seen at least eight years of drought. Over 15 years saw flooding. There were years where the state experienced both. Then there were severe cyclones. With most economic sectors already feeling the heat of the pandemic, a pervasive drought will be the last thing the state needs as it can be back-breaking for the farmers who are already under stress. There was even a report of a farmer from Balangir ending his life over alleged crop loss and indebtedness. For a state where the farm sector is overly paddy-centric, far from modernised and primarily rain-dependent in the absence of adequate irrigation infrastructure, the administration is banking on a contingency plan and hopes that September’s predicted rains will help alleviate the situation. But the farmers, most of whom are small and marginal in nature, are desperate and in need of immediate support. The BJD government must get its act together quickly.