Dear Mr Prime Minister,

We wish to convey our deep collective anxiety about the enormous suffering of the rural poor in large parts of India’s countryside as they are battling drought, often for the second or even third consecutive year. In areas where rains have failed, farmers who depend mainly on rainwater to irrigate their crops have no or very low crop yields. Those who rely on irrigation are also affected, with groundwater sinking and streams and reservoirs drying up. All this adds to chronic agrarian distress reflected in a massive slowdown in agricultural growth during the last few years, with no imminent signs of recovery.

The consequence of this adversity is massive distress movement of populations, causing broken childhoods, interrupted education, life in camps, city pavements or crowded shanties. Add to this the old and the infirm who are left behind, to beg for food or just quietly die. The cattle for whom there is no fodder, sold at distress prices or just abandoned to fend for themselves. And the drying up even of sources of water to drink.

However, the response of central and state administrations to looming drought is sadly listless, lacking in both urgency and compassion. The scale of MGNREGA works is way below what is required and wages often remain unpaid for months. Even more gravely, the central and state governments are doing far too little to implement the National Food Security Act, three years after it came into force. Had the Act been in place, more than 80 per cent of rural households in the poorer states would be able to secure about half of their monthly cereal requirements almost free of cost. In a drought situation food security entitlements should be made universal.

In addition, we find no plans in most of the drought-hit regions for feeding the destitute, especially old persons left behind when families migrate, children without care-givers, the disabled and other vulnerable groups. ICDS centres could have been upgraded to supply emergency feeding to the destitute during the drought, but this has not happened. Under Supreme Court orders, school meals should be served on all days, including holidays, in drought-affected areas, but this is rarely the case. Arrangements to augment drinking water supply, including ensuring that marginalised hamlets have functioning tube-wells and transporting water where necessary, are awfully inadequate. There are also few attempts to create fodder banks and cattle camps. Most of these measures used to be a routine part of state response to drought, and were often undertaken with a great sense of urgency, but they are barely being considered today.

The highest priority of the central government in a drought situation should be to ensure the creation of millions of additional person-days of work in all affected villages. Instead, the government has not even allocated enough funds this year to sustain the level of employment generated last year – 233 crore person-days according to official data. At current levels of expenditure per person-day, this would cost well over Rs 50,000 crores. Yet the central government has allocated just Rs 38,500 crores to MGNREGA this year, of which more than Rs 12,000 crores are required to clear pending liabilities. These liabilities, only prove the distress crores of workers have been put through because of wages left unpaid for months at a time. Unemployment allowance and mandatory compensation for delayed wage payments, are also not paid citing “insufficient funds”, resulting in a failure of the Act, and its legal safeguards. Most alarming today, is that instead of expanding, MGNREGA is all set to contract in this critical drought year, unless financial allocations are vastly expanded.

The enormous distress – of food, drinking water, work, fodder for animals, and dignity – of hundred of millions is utterly unacceptable. We demand that the central government under your leadership acknowledges these failures and makes rapid amends, by implementing all the traditional relief measures as well as by ensuring full implementation of the National Food Security Act 2013 and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act 2005 in letter and spirit.

Signed –

Aruna Roy, senior activist, Rajasthan

Jean Dreze, Economist

Jayati Ghosh, Economist

Harsh Mander, Activist, Writer

Satish Deshpande, Academic, Sociologist

Deep Joshi, senior environmentalist and water activist

Prof. Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Emeritus, Economist, Senior academician

Amit Bhaduri, Professor Emeritus, Senior Economist

Vijay Vyas, Professor Emeritus, Senior Economist

Utsa Patnaik, Professor and Senior Economist

Arundhati Roy, Writer

Admiral Ramdas, former Chief of Naval Staff

Lalita Ramdas, activist, Maharashtra

Naseeruddin Shah, Actor

Brinda Karat, Women’s leader, Politician

Medha Patkar, Activist, politician, women’s leader

Shabana Azmi, Actor

Kavitha Kuruganti, Activist, leader of farmer’s groups

Nivedita Menon, Academic

Nandita Das, actor

Mukul Kesavan, writer

Leela Samson, dancer

Ashok Vajpeyi, writer

Justice Rajinder Sachar, senior jurist

Syeda Hameed, women’s leader, former member Planning Commission

Shyam Benegal, filmmaker

Himanshu Thakkar, environmentalist

Wajahat Habibullah, former Chief Information Commissioner

Deepak Sandhu, former Chief Information Commissioner

Shailesh Gandhi, former Central Information Commissioner

Uma Chakravarty, historian

Ritwick Dutta, environmental legal activist

Trilochan Shastry, academic

Jagdeep Chhokar, academic

Advocate Vrinda Grover

Nandini Sundar, Sociologist

Shekhar Singh, RTI activist

Amar Kanwar, filmmaker

Prof C.P.Chandrasekhar, labour economist

Dilip Simeon, academic

Prithvi Sharma, activist, also on behalf of ICAN

Maja Daruwala, senior human rights activist

Mathew Cherian, Helpage

T.M. Krishna, Musician, Writer

Anand Patwardhan, filmmaker

Lalit Mathur, former civil servant

Kavita Srivastava, PUCL, Rajasthan

Anjali Bhardwaj, RTI activist

Achin Vinayak, academic and activist, Delhi

Ram Rehman, photographer

Pamela Philipose, journalist

Tushar.A.Gandhi , academic

Rita Anand, senior journalist

Nirmala Lakshman, senior journalist

Tripurari Sharma, Drama and Theater, playright

Harsh Sethi, writer

Madhu Bhaduri, former diplomat

Sharmila Tagore, Actor

Amitabh Mukhopadhyay, former auditor, CAG

Mridula Mukherjee, historian

Aditya Mukherjee, historian

Amita Baviskar, academic

Arundhati Dhuru, activist, UP

Kavita Krishnan, activist, leader of women’s groups

Reetika Khera, Economist

Sanjay Kak, filmmaker

Baba Adhav, labour leader

Achyut Das, activist, Odisha

Ajit Ranade, economist

Kalpana Kannabiran, sociologist, lawyer

Vasanth Kannabiran, teacher and activist, Andhra

Paul Divakar, dalit activist

Abha Sur, writer, academic

Rajni Bakshi, writer

Ravi Chopra, activist, Uttarakhand

Neelabh Mishra, writer

Poornima Chikarmane, Pune

Zoya Hasan , academic, political scientist

Shabnam Hashmi, activist

Rebecca John, academic

Anandalakshmy, academic

Smita Gupta, Economist, Head of economic cell, AIDWA

Praveen Jha, Economist

Gautam Navlakha, senior activist

Venkatesh Nayak, RTI activist

Seema Mustafa, journalist, editor, The Citizen

Bela Bhatia, academic

Bezwada Wilson, senior activist

Prof. Haragopal, academic

Sumit Chakravarty, Editor, Mainstream

Gargi Chakravarty, Women’s activist

Patricia Uberoi

Kamal Chenoy, senior academic

Janaki Nair, academic

Vipul Mudgal, journalist

Deepa Sinha, Right to Food activist

Himanshu, activist

Uma Pillai, former civil servant

Nikhil Dey, activist, Rajasthan

D.N.Rath, academic

Abey George,academic

Mahesh Pandya, ICAN

Jyothi Krishnan, academic

Balram, activist, Jharkhand

AL Rangarajan, ICAN

Rajaram Singh

Rameshwar Prasad, ICAN

Anand Murugesan, academic

Abha Bhaiya, women’s activist

Sagar Rabari, activist, Gujarat

Dhirendhra Singh

C. Rammanohar Reddy, former editor EPW, senior writer

Nandini K Oza, water activist, Maharasthra

Osama Manzar, Digital Empowerment Foundation

Rakesh Sharma

Pankti Jog, RTI activist

Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, RTI activist, Telangana

Subrat Das, economist

Umesh Anand, editor, Civil Society

Charul,singer, cultural activist

Vinay, singer, writer, musician, activist

Maya Caroli

Ashwini Kulkarni, activist, Pune

Vibha Puri Das

Surjit Das

Amrita Johri, RTI activist

Madhuresh Kumar, activist

Ankur Sarin

Dipak Dholakia

Navdeep Mathur

Harinesh, activist, Gujarat

Persis Ginwalla

Shamsul Islam, theatre activist

Prafulla Samantara, activist, Odisha

Lingraj Azad, activist, Odisha

Sunilam, activist, Madhya Pradesh

Aradhana Bhargava

Meera Chaudhary, activist

Suniti SR, activist, Pune

Suhas Kolhekar, activist Pune

Prasad Bagwe

Gabrielle Dietrich, leader of Women’s groups

Geetha Ramakrishnan, activist Tamil Nadu

C.R. Neelkandan

P Chennaiah, activist Telangana

Ramakrishnan Raju, activist, Andhra

Richa Singh, activist, Uttar Pradesh

Sister Cella

Vimal Bhai, activist, Himachal Pradesh

Jabar Singh, activist

Anand Mazgaonkar


Kamayani Swami, activist, Bihar

Ashish Ranjan, activist

Mahendra Yadav, activist

Faisal Khan, activist, Haryana

JS Walla

Kailash Meena, activist, Rajasthan

Amitava Mitra

Aveek Saha

BS Rawat

Rajendra Ravi

Shabnam Shaikh

Mahesh Pandya

H.S. Shylendra

Iqbalkhan Pulli

Soumen Ray

Ramachandra Prasad, ICAN

Ravi M.

Dipak Dholakia

(Main Photo: A drought affected village in Thiruvennainallur, Tamil Nadu, April 2016. Credit: Zacharie Rabehi).