Chennai, Water crisis, Drought, Tamil Nadu, Tankers, Ennore, Water scarcity, Rainfall
Officials say at least 29 districts of the state have faced severe rainfall deficit in August itself. Representational photo: iStock

Karnataka stares at drought after scanty monsoon

While the state’s reservoirs hold only 67% of their total water capacity, the government has identified over 120 taluks that will be declared drought-hit

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A severe deficit in monsoon rainfall has brought Karnataka to the brink of a drought situation with the government ordering a survey to declare drought-prone areas in the state.

According to data from the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring Centre (KSNDMC), the reservoirs in the state at present hold only 67 percent of their water capacity.

The water levels in Tungabhadra, Malaprabha, Krishna Raja Sagara (KRS), Linganamakki, Bhadra, Varahi and Supa reservoirs are lower than their actual water storage levels. The KRS, Kabini and Harangi reservoirs, apart from supplying drinking water to Bengaluru and the Old Mysuru region, also cater to the irrigation needs of farmlands in the Old Mysuru region.

According to KSNDMC, the cumulative storage of water in the four reservoirs — KRS, Kabini, Hemavathi, and Harangi — in the Cauvery basin fell to 72 tmcft on August 28 from 93tmcft on August 11.

This is concerning as the state is expected to face scarcity, both drinking water and agricultural in the next few months.

The state’s drought situation was discussed at a recent cabinet sub-committee meeting and a circular was issued to the Revenue Department to conduct a survey to draw up a list of drought-prone areas and declare them for the year 2023-24.

‘Over 120 taluks hit by drought’

Sources said that the state government will likely declare more than 120 taluks and 194 village panchayats as drought-hit.

Lack of water for irrigation has dried up standing crops in several villages in districts including Bagalkot, Gadag, Tumkur and Belgavi, affecting the livelihood of around 35,284 farmers.

While the data was collected as per the norms of Central Drought Manual-2020, the numbers are likely to go up as the survey is being done at the taluk level, sources said.

According to data available from August, the rainfall is 25 percent less than usual. Only 79 percent of the crop has been sown in the state this season and the yield is expected to be less than the previous years due to the damage caused by the water crisis.

Crops around dams, farm ponds and other water sources are safe but those in rain-fed areas are likely to be lost due to the crisis.

Key crops like paddy, grown on 4 lakh hectares, millets on 3.5 lakh hectares, cotton on 1.43 lakh hectares, groundnut on 93,000 hectares and sunflowers on 71,000 hectares this season are expected to yield much less, said an official of the agriculture department.

“At least 29 districts of the state have faced severe rainfall deficits in August. It has not rained for three consecutive weeks, from June 1 to August 24, and the rainfall is 25 per cent less when compared to last year. Thus only 64.84 lakh hectares (79 per cent) of land has been sown out of the 82.35 lakh hectare sowing target for the current season,” he added.

Survey ordered to check situation on ground: Agri minister

“According to current information, there is a drought situation in around 120 taluks of the state. Among these, officials have been given a clear direction to check the actual condition of crops in all the taluks which are facing severe drought due to lack of rain and submit a consolidated report," said state agriculture minister N Chaluvarya Swamy.

He said, officials of the revenue and agriculture departments have been asked to visit the place and conduct a joint survey by selecting 10 selected villages from each of the 120 taluks and identifying five crops.

“A report will be submitted in 10 days, then a meeting will be held again and a decision will be taken regarding drought declaration,” Swamy added.

Chief Minister Siddaramaiah has also said that the meeting of the cabinet sub-committee will be held shortly and a decision regarding drought declaration will be taken. The cabinet will then decide on the same. The central government will be informed after the declaration of drought. He said that the central government will assist as per NDRF norms after verification.

“After the declaration of drought, programmes such as work for the people will be started in drought-affected taluks,” he said.

Centre’s drought manual rigid, alleges state

As per the Central Drought Manual-2020 criteria, 120 taluks have been identified as drought-prone in the state. Of them 38 are experiencing severe drought while 75 are experiencing moderate drought conditions.

The state government, however, rues that the revised drought manual (in 2020) is rigid and limits its power to declare as drought-prone areas which are in a critical condition.

“The criteria of the central government are rigid and not exposed to the facts. There are more taluks and districts facing drought situations and the Centre has to understand the situation,” said an official.

“As per the Centre’s rulebook, a state can only declare drought if there is 60 per cent rainfall deficit in that season. The very criterion is preventing Karnataka from naming its drought-hit areas despite an acute water crisis as the state since June has recorded only 24 per cent rain deficit,” the official added.

“If it rains in July and there is a lack of rain in August, the sown crops will not survive. The Centre’s manual doesn’t cover these issues. So, the criteria should be simplified. The chief minister wrote to the Centre a month ago, requesting that the state government should be given freedom to declare drought in the state, but no response has been received so far,” said Revenue Minister Krishna Byre Gowda.

Though the central standards don't suit Karnataka's situation, officials of the central government have informally told their Karnataka counterparts that the state’s argument is correct and complements the reality, the official said.

“Global climate is changing. While it rains for a complete month, there is a complete deficit in the next month. In such a case, the central government will be urged once again to revise the standards if justice is to be given to the farmers,” he said.

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