[This is an AHRC Statement.]
The pattern on display in the Bombay High Court yesterday, 9 May 2016, was not that of the cycle of drought affecting millions. It was that of callous – bordering on malicious – governance.
According to media reports, like this one, the Maharashtra state government informed the Court that it would declare drought in over 29,000 villages in the state and provide all relief prescribed in the Drought Manual, 2009. However, for anyone following the unfolding of this governance disaster, this Declaration, at this moment, only communicates mockery.
The government did not make the revelation by itself. It had been dragged to court, and forced to do so, having being summoned in the hearing of a batch of Public Interest Litigations over acute shortage of water in the state and its inaction over the same.
The government also told the Court that it would issue a corrigendum and clarify that it would order the authorities under its jurisdiction to read all references to “drought-like situation” and “drought-affected area” as drought.
“Corrigendum” is the operative word. No, the government had not been mistaken. It was, rather, fully aware of the worsening drought and the toll this was taking on the people. It was aware of the deaths being caused by both distress suicides and heat strokes in serpentine water queues. It had even organized a full cabinet disaster tour to take stock of “drought-like situation”. Despite all this, it had failed to declare drought and thus locked up the possibilities of providing relief in the absence of an official declaration of a drought. So the corrigendum is really criminal disdain for the lives of ordinary citizens it is oath bound to protect.
That said Maharashtra is not alone in doing this. It is following a set pattern governments across Indian states follow to pretend to address disasters, especially recurrent ones like droughts. The Asian Human Rights Commission has outlined the pattern in detail here.
Here is a quick recap of the phases for the uninitiated:
• Governments will not officially declare the ‘drought’ and will choose to study the “drought-like” condition until it is too late, and too many lives have been lost, and large-scale distress migration has taken place.
• Next, a fervid blame game ensues between the state and union government, especially if they are led by rival political formations. The provincial government accuses the union government of sabotaging drought relief by not releasing funds; the union responds by blaming the state government for underutilising funds disbursed to the state. This continues for a while with no regard to lives being lost to distress suicides, heat strokes, and all manner of drought related ailments.
• After this, cosmetic, and often tragicomic, relief measures are undertaken by both bickering governments amidst full-throttle attempts by both to take credit.
• The last stage involves the natural and partial mitigation of the crisis, with the onset of the monsoons, followed by winters. The climatic changes bring a dip in temperature and replenish water bodies at least to subsistence levels. This reflects in a decline of suicides and deaths by all other means. The drought is then forgotten or replaced with some other topic, only to return to haunt the people next year.
The Maharashtra government has only fiddled a bit with the pattern this time, not out of free will though. It rushed water trains to Latur because there was no water left, not even to drink. It set up a full cabinet disaster tour as the suicides reached triple figures by 15 February itself. And, only now has it now assured the Bombay High Court that it will, finally, declare drought.
Love is a strong word. And, the AHRC does not know about everybody. But, no government seems to mind a good drought, certainly not when there is a pattern to uphold.
Citizens will only be liberated when they break such compulsive patterns of mis-governance.