Drought conditions have affected vast areas in India, where over 60 percent of the agriculture is reliant on monsoon rains and farmers are highly vulnerable to changes in rainfall patterns and rising global temperatures.
According to media reports nine of India's 29 states had officially declared a drought last year, and 302 of the 640 districts are living in drought-like conditions. Telangana, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha and Madhya Pradesh are the states that have officially declared drought. Together, they have asked the Centre for an aid of Rs 20,000 crore.
The year 2015 was the fourth time in over a century when India faced back-to-back drought years, with a rain shortfall of more than 10% in consecutive years. Reports of 14% deficiency in the annual monsoon rainfall through 2015 has affected more than 300 districts across India. The country had faced a similar situation between 1985 and 1987.
Moreover, weak financial conditions have forced 20-25 women of a drought hit area in Beed (Maharashtra) to decide to not marry this year.
Fearing that their parents might commit suicide over their inability to get their daughters married off due to mounting debts these girls want the government to help such families affected by severe droughts.
Latur, Osmanabad and Beed are the worst drought-affected districts in Marathwada region of Maharashtra, with as many as 89 farmers reported to have committed suicide in January 2016 itself.
Despite the state government's "all-out" efforts to help the distressed farmers from ending their lives, locals feel that the government officials have failed to create confidence among the farmers regarding several government schemes for their relief.
Kishore Tiwari, who heads the Farmers Distress Management Task Force appointed by the state government said: "The high rate of suicides only highlights the fact that there was a pressing need to double up efforts to reach out to the farmers in nook and corner of Marathwada region."
No more ‘droughts' in India: IMD
According to a circular issued by the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the word ‘drought' has been officially removed, in an attempt to do away with or re-define terms that are not scientifically precise.
B.P. Yadav, spokesperson for the IMD had said that the agency has never used the term "drought" in its forecasts and has maintained that declaring droughts was the prerogative of States.
"Some confusion has been there over some years and we wanted to be more precise," said Yadav.
The IMD has several definitions of drought: meteorological, hydrological and agricultural. A state could be undergoing a meteorological drought- with 90 per cent shortfall of the average monsoon rainfall - but not suffer an agricultural drought -if the shortfall didn't affect more than 20 per cent of the State's area.
"Drought is not a measure of productivity (agricultural)," said Shailesh Nayak, former Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, to whom the IMD reports , adding that declaring a drought has never been the IMD's mandate and, in fact, not even that of the Central government.