Drought: how the Ministry’s early warning system got an early burial

Drought: how the Ministry’s early warning system got an early burial

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July 18- Everybody loves a good drought. And beginning with UP today, as state after state reel off alarming figures for ”drought-affected” crops, there’s one thing officials at the Ministry of Agriculture badly miss: an early warning system that would tell them how much of which crop has been destroyed where and what will the yield be.

The Ministry of Agriculture did set up one such system in place signing a Rs 16.6-crore contract with a private company. It involved generating weekly reports from 115 stations nationwide on 11 crops ranging from rice and wheat to soyabean.

However, thanks to the Ministry’s apathy and the refusal of the Met Department to part with data, the system crashed within six months of its start in 1999.

While the Ministry shelled out Rs 9 crore, the private firm, Consulting Engineering Services India Private Limited (CES), had to disband its 180-member team in 115 regional stations and junk its communication network. ”We kept requesting the Ministry to have a meeting with the Met Department and Central Ground Water Commission so that they could start giving us data regularly but that never happened,” says P S Kundu, CES associate director and project in-charge.

The two departments refused to share data on the grounds that they could not give it to a private agency which could misuse it. Confirms R C A Jain, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture: ”They were not getting all the inputs from these agencies, hence their weekly reports were not comprehensive and so the contract had to be terminated.”

The project was meant to use remote sensing and field studies to collect agro-climatic data, including figures on present and past rainfall, reservoir situation and weather conditions. These were then meant to be factored in to arrive at the yield and then total production.

The company gave 92 weekly reports before it was terminated.

The Ministry has now repackaged the project under another name: Fasal. It has prepared an elaborate proposal for it. No marks for guessing when it will come into effect.