“Drought is a normal, recurrent feature of climate”.
Since the early days of development planning in India, droughts have been identified as a physical obstacle to economic development and eventually as natural drivers of water insecurity. This conceptualisation highlights the rather simplistic notion of droughts as a ‘climatic’ feature characterised only by its physical variables and its multifaceted impacts. In short, the problem of drought begins and ends with the rains. How does policy then conceptualise the problem of a ‘drought’? Is drought low rainfall, reduced rainfall, scarcity of water resources, low agricultural productivity or failure of agriculture? Is it a natural problem that needs structural solutions or is it also a political problem that needs political solutions? In light of the complex nature of droughts which manifest as both unforeseen short term natural disasters as well as inherent long term drivers of regional backwardness, what is the lens through which policy sees the issue of droughts and how does it affect the role of policy in addressing the issue?
Telangana has always been included among the most drought-prone and backward regions in the country. As the newest state in India, it has emerged from an enduring social movement in response to social, political, and ecological neglect (among others) of the region during the decades during its inclusion in the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh. A blaring example of this neglect is the massive exploitation of groundwater for irrigation at the expense of tank maintenance, which has only added to the ongoing condition of rural distress acutely felt in Telangana. The politics of the new state is articulated through recognition of the injustice its people and resources have suffered, and with an intention to create a “Bangaru Telangana”. Given its physical propensity to drought and history of neglect, how do the policies of the new government reflect its strategy to drought-proof the region?
Seeing droughts as a regional issue alone, however, takes away from the fact that the burden of droughts is not carried by a homogenous population rather by a population structured by inherent inequalities. While some sections are able to cope better during droughts, vulnerable sections suffer disproportionately due to their lower resilience to reduced incomes and poor quality of access to resources. Policies that do not acknowledge as well as explicitly address such inequalities tend to flow along the existing social cleavages and concentrate the policy benefits among those who have more access to resources and social capital, thus exaggerating the vulnerability of the weakest sections.
The objective of the project and the intended interactions is thus to seek directions of research and enquiries beyond the dominant discourses of structural and resource-centric solutions to droughts and to look at drought policy through a lens of inclusiveness and access. In order to find a path to a drought-proof Telangana, there is a need to initiate a dialogue on the entire process of policy; from intent, sectoral complexities, upto access.