Op-Ed: Spectre Of Drought Hovering Over Odisha

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: The spectre of a drought has begun to haunt the state with a large number of districts experiencing less than normal rainfall. As many as 21 out the total 30 districts have witnessed deficient rainfall, triggering all round concern. Even in ‘normal’ districts there are pockets of deficiency because of uneven distribution of rainfall. The overall rainfall deficiency between June 1 and July 19 has been estimated at 26.3 percent.

The situation has hit agricultural activities across the state with a few cases of alleged suicide by farmers already being reported. As expected the government has refused to link these cases with crop failure or loan burden of the farmers who took the extreme step but there is no denying the growing anxiety over the situation.

A drought is bad news for people in any part of the state but its effects get multiplied in western Odisha districts like Kalahandi, Nuapada and Bolangir which, over the years, have earned notoriety as the hunger zones of the state. Despite tall claims of ‘positive’ changes having been ushered in during the last 19 years of Naveen Patnaik government’s rule not much has changed on the ground in this benighted region which is part of the infamous KBK belt, a metaphor for under-development and backwardness.

Farming having turned into a non-remunerative proposition and jobs, both government and private, becoming scarce the annual migration of labour from this belt continues. Able bodied men and women and sometimes even children leave their homes to earn a living on farmlands and brick kilns in states like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab and even Chhatisgarh which is just across the border. Children are often forced to work in factories under inhuman conditions.

The exodus of this workforce from the villages begins soon after Nuakhai, the harvesting festival of western Odisha. Labour touts pay them advance money which is accepted readily as droughts are known to frequent this belt where poverty alleviation schemes have failed to make a noticeable impact.

The unfortunate part is that a majority of these labourers return home poorer to tell stories of exploitation at the hands of their employers in alien climes. Women are often exploited sexually and there have been instances of children being maimed. But none of this has made any difference to the phenomenon of migration which continues and has become the most demonstrable proof of the growing desperation of the poor who allegedly live in a welfare state!

A drought would perhaps raise the scale of this exodus of labour but it could cause other problems as well. For example it has the potential to turn marginal farmers and sharecroppers into labourers scouting for menial jobs to keep their families going. One should not be surprised if a section of them  decide to join the huge force of migrant labourers and go out of the state in search of greener pastures. That will be a tragedy and the government should do everything within its powers to prevent such a possibility.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)