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Drought is generally considered as a deficiency in rainfall /precipitation over an extended period, usually a season or more, resulting in a water shortage causing adverse impacts on vegetation, animals, and/or people.

There is no single, legally accepted definition of drought in India. Some states resort to their own definitions of drought. State Government is the final authority when it comes to declaring a region as drought affected. Union of India has published two important documents in respect of managing a drought.

However, these documents have no binding force and are mere guidelines to be followed, if so advised.

The Manual recommends four standard monitoring tools- rainfall deficiency, the extent of area sown, normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) and moisture adequacy index (MAI) - which could be applied in combination for drought declaration. At least three indicators or index values should be adverse for a drought declaration (see the section below for more details). Since the information on these indicators and indices are available at the level of Taluka /Tehsil / Block, drought is declared by the State Government at the level of these administrative units on the basis of observed deficiencies. However, states are not bound to use the above standards for declaration of drought and many states still depend on the failure of crop measures to declare a drought (but indicators based on crop failure prevents the farmers from getting any early help)

The Supreme Court of India in its verdict dated 11 May 2016 in the matter of Swaraj Abhiyan Vs Union of India (W.P. (C) No. 857 of 2015) stated that drought would certainly fall within the definition of “disaster” as defined under Section 2(d) of the Disaster Management (DM) Act, 2005. The DM Act defines "disaster" to mean ‘a catastrophe, mishap, calamity or grave occurrence in any area, arising from natural or man-made causes, or by accident or negligence which results in substantial loss of life or human suffering or damage to, and destruction of, property, or damage to, or degradation of, environment, and is of such a nature or magnitude as to be beyond the coping capacity of the community of the affected area.'

Since drought is a disaster, risk assessment and risk management as well as crisis management of a drought falls completely within the purview of the Disaster Management Act, 2005. Accordingly Supreme Court directed the National Disaster Management Authority to be the agency responsible for drought management particularly with respect to chalking out long term preventive and mitigation measures. However, the state government concerned would be the final authority to declare a drought.

The Supreme Court in its 11 May 2016 verdict has made it clear that it is not as if a drought is required to be declared in the entire State or even in an entire district. If a drought-like situation or a drought exists in some village in a district or a taluka or tehsil or block, it should be so declared.

Further the Supreme Court stated that the failure of the States to declare a drought (if indeed that is necessary) effectively deprives the weak in the State, the assistance that they need to live a life of dignity, as guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution [2].

Features of drought

The 2010 Guidelines for Management of Drought issued by National Disaster Management Authority characterises drought as a natural hazard that differs from other hazards since it has a slow onset, evolves over months or even years, affects a large spatial extent, and cause little structural damage. Its onset and end and severity are often difficult to determine. Like other hazards, the impacts of drought span economic, environmental and social sectors and can be reduced through mitigation and preparedness.

The concept of drought varies from place to place depending upon normal climatic conditions, available water resources, agricultural practices and the various socio-economic attributes of a region. Arid and semi arid areas are most vulnerable where drought is a recurring feature occurring with varying magnitudes.

However, this traditional approach to drought as a phenomenon of arid and semi-arid areas is changing in India too. Now, even regions with high rainfall, often face severe water scarcities. The Guidelines point out the ‘changing face’ of drought in India with examples of Cherrapunji in Meghalaya and Jaisalmer in Rajasthan. Cherrapunji in Meghalaya, one of the world’s highest rainfall areas, with over 11, 000 mm of rainfall, now faces drought for almost nine months of the year. On the other hand, the western part of Jaisalmer district of Rajasthan, one of the driest parts of the country, is recording around 9 cm of rainfall in a year.

Impact of droughts

In the past, the impact of drought has been linked mostly to the agricultural sector, as deficiency of precipitation over an extended period of time, results in depletion of soil moisture, which in turn reduces crop production. This impact continues and is increasing as poor land use practices, rapidly increasing populations, environmental degradation, poverty and conflicts reduce the potential of agricultural production. The extent and intensity of drought impact is determined by prevailing economic conditions, the structure of the agricultural sector, management of water resources, cereal reserves, internal and external conflicts etc. The micro level impact is at the village and household levels. Generally, the secondary impact is on regional inequality, employment, trade deficits, debt and inflation. Drought can result in household food insecurity, water related health risks and loss of livelihood in the agricultural as well as other sectors of the economy.

Classification of drought in India

The 2009 Manual of Drought Management issued by Ministry of Agriculture, Union of India (prepared for Ministry by National Institute of Disaster Management) classifies droughts into three categories based on the existing literature on the subject:-meteorological, agricultural and hydrological. The manual also specifies the India specific features for each type of these droughts.


Source: National Weather Service, United States, Public Facts on Drought

Measuring Meteorological and Agricultural Drought in India


Source: Manual on Drought Management (2009)

The classification of drought as mentioned above need not be the only criteria for classification.[3]"

Droughts are also classified according to the timing of rainfall deficiency during a particular rainfall season, usually June to September in India. Thus, on the basis of time of onset, drought is also classified as early season, mid season and late season.

This classification is particularly useful while monitoring the drought. The monitoring or the possibility of a drought does not end in July or early August but continues till the end of September and in some situations till the end of November (where North West Monsoon showers are received).

The Guidelines provide that to promote management of relief measures in near real time it is necessary to declare early season drought by end of July, mid season drought (growing season) by end of September and end season by November.

Early season droughts provide sufficient lead-time to mitigate the impact of drought. Mid-season droughts occur in association with the breaks in the southwest monsoon. If the drought conditions occur during the vegetative phase of crop growth, it might result in stunted growth, low leaf area development and even reduced plant population.

Definition of "drought year" adopted by IMD for the whole of India

A drought year as a whole is defined by the To IMD/Welcome.php Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) as a year in which, the overall rainfall deficiency is more than 10% of the Long Period Average value (LPA) value and if more than 20% of its area is affected by drought conditions, either moderate or severe or combined moderate and severe.

When the spatial coverage of drought is more than 40% it will be called as All India Severe Drought Year[4].

Declaration of Agricultural Drought in India (Early Indicators developed for identifying the Agricultural drought)

Traditionally in India, District Collectors recommend the declaration of drought only after crop production estimates are obtained through the annewari / paisewari / girdawari system (essentially means value of crops; it is often measured as the value of the actual yield after harvest in relation to the value of the crop grown; this system provides an estimate of agricultural losses, which could be used as an indicator of drought). Generally, areas with less than 50% annewari / paisewari / girdawari are considered to be affected by a drought. Final annewari / paisewari / girdawari figures for kharif crops are available only in December, while those for rabi crops are available in March.

After drought declaration, planning and implementation of drought relief and response measures is initiated.

Collectors can notify drought only after the State Government declares drought in the State or parts thereof. Financial Assistance is provided through the Calamity Relief Fund (CRF) / state disaster response fund[5] maintained by the state under the administrative jurisdiction of state disaster management departments.

After drought is declared, if the funds available under the Calamity Relief Fund (CRF) / State Disaster Response Fund are inadequate for meeting relief expenditures, the State Governments may consider submitting a Memorandum for assistance from the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF) / National Disaster Response Fund[6] . The Government of India sends a team to assess the requirement for relief and based on that Govt of India release assistance from the NCCF/NDRF (This means that if drought is declared in January or February, the team would visit much after the crop is harvested and thus cannot assess crop losses.). The revised norms for assistance from SDRF / NDRF were issued on 8 April 2015 covering the period 2015-2020.

The 2010 guidelines on drought management had recommended replacing the annewari / paisewari / girdawari system by using new indicators which facilitate early determination of drought. It recommended declaring early season drought by end of July, mid season drought (growing season) by end of September and end season drought by November.

The 2009 manual points to different indices that could be used in early determination of drought

From the above, it has identified four key indices which could be used in combination to declare a drought by the state concerned.

The manual states that the State Government could consider declaring a drought if the total rainfall received during the months of June and July is less than 50% of the average rainfall for these two months


if the total rainfall for the entire duration of the rainy season of the state, from June to September (the south-west monsoon) and or from December to March (north-east monsoon), is less than 75% of the average rainfall for the season


there is an adverse impact on vegetation and soil moisture, as measured by the vegetation index and soil moisture index.

IMD identifies drought in all the meteorological sub-divisions (aridity anomaly index).

For declaring drought, States need to obtain NDVI values through the National Agricultural Drought Assessment and Monitoring System (NADAMS) managed by Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre. The 14 States covered under NADAMS are Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Haryana, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. The drought assessment for 14 States is carried out at District level. However, out of these 14 States in 5 States (Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Telangana) drought assessment is carried out at Sub-District level. All the above-mentioned States receive NADAMS reports on a regular basis. Those States which do not receive the report can approach the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) for receiving the information. The agriculture drought assessment and monitoring, under NADAMS project, is carried out using multiple satellite data, rainfall, soil moisture index, potential sowing area, irrigation percentage and ground observations. A logical modeling approach is followed to classify the districts into Alert, Watch and Normal during June, July and August and Severe, Moderate and Mild drought conditions during September and October. The monthly Drought Assessment Reports are communicated to all concerned State and national level agencies and also kept on the Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre (MNCFC) website. NADAMS project provides an early assessment of drought situation and thus helps the State Governments to take remedial measures and also use this information for drought declaration.

MAI values are critical to ascertain agricultural drought. The State agriculture department needs to calculate the MAI values on the basis of data available to it and provide it to the Department of Relief and Disaster Management, which would ascertain that MAI values conform to the intensity of moderate drought before drought is declared. MAI values need to be applied in conjunction with other indicators such as rainfall figures, area under sowing and NDVI values.

At Least three of the above four factors must be present for the declaration of drought.

Owing to the sparse network of ground-based observations available in the country, monitoring of drought suffers from the following deficiencies:

The manual on drought management states that ideally, States should declare drought in October. The monsoon is over by this month and figures for total rainfall are available in this month. Similarly, a final picture regarding the crop conditions as well as the reservoir storage is available by the end of October. It provides adequate time for the central team to visit the State and assess the crop losses. For the States that receive rains from the north-east monsoon, drought declaration should be done in January. However, if the situation so warrants, such a declaration could be made earlier as well.

Center- state Jurisdiction with respect to declaration of drought

The Manual /Guidelines for Drought Management and the indicators mentioned above are used only as a reference document as well as guide for action by policy makers, administrators and technical professionals. While Government of India recommends these guidelines, it also recognizes that the State Government could face situations under which they may need to deviate from these guidelines and acknowledges the freedom to do so. The manual does not in any way reduces the state government authority to take their own decisions in a drought situation. This is necessary as there might be situations which do not find mention in the manual and some states are more irrigated than others and hence, are not so dependent on rainfall vis-à-vis other states. The requirement of water is also dependent on the type of crop sown and even when there is deficit rainfall, the crop production does not necessarily fall to that extent in all states. Accordingly, in a federal polity, GOI is of the view that it may not be justified to issue binding guidelines for all states to declare drought and to sit in judgment on their decisions.

For instance, Haryana, where 83% of the area is under irrigation, banks upon other factors for not declaring a drought, such as: (i) Extent of fodder supply and its prevailing prices compared to normal prices; (ii) Position regarding drinking water supply; (iii) Demand for employment on public works, and unusual movement of labour in search of employment; (iv) Current agricultural and non-agricultural wages compared with normal times; (v) Supply of food grains, and (vi) price situation of essential commodities, which could be applied by the State, in combination, for drought declaration. Similarly, Bihar has added some other factors such as perennial rivers while Gujarat has added factors such as the nature of the soil etc. The Gujarat Relief Manual, apparently refers to “scarcity” and “semi-scarcity” instead of the words “drought” or a drought-like situation. Similarly, due to a lack of standardization in the annewari system of crop assessment, Gujarat takes 4 annas out of 12 annas as a base for determining if there is a drought-like situation. In areas where the crop cutting is between 4 annas and 6 annas, there is discretion in the State Government to declare or not to declare a drought. On the other hand, Maharashtra uses 50 paise as the standard for the annewari system for declaring a drought.

The Supreme Court in its 11 May 2016 verdict affirmed that the final decision to declare a drought is of the State Government but the resources available with the Union of India can be effectively used to assist the State Governments in having a fresh look into the data and information and to arrive at the correct decision in the interest of the affected people of the State. The Supreme Court commented that Union of India cannot totally wash its hands off on issues pertaining to Article 21 of the Constitution but at the same time, the authority of the State Government to declare a drought or any other similar power cannot be diluted.

In Union of India, under the Allocation of Business Rules of the Government of India and as per the for National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF).pdf Guidelines on the constitution of NDRF/SDRF, the matters relating to damage to crops and co-ordination of relief measures necessitated by drought, hailstorm and pest-attacks, cold wave and frost and the matters relating to loss of human life due to drought fall within the domain of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare. The Ministry of Land Resources and the Ministry of Water Resources too are mandated to undertake drought proofing activities.

Supreme Court (SC) Directions on 11 May 2016 with respect to drought management

The major directions issued by the Supreme Court on 11 May 2016 are as follows:

1. Debates in the House of Lords held on 8 May 1874 mention that the government of that time was working on drought manual and to establish Indian Meteorological Department.

2. Article 21. Protection of life and personal liberty.-No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.

3. Page 13 and 14 of the Manual for Drought Management

4. FAQ of IMD

5. The Calamity Relief Funds are broadly based on the recommendation of Finance Commission-IX. They are used to meet the expenditure for providing immediate relief to victims of cyclone, drought, earthquake, fire, flood, tsunami, hailstorm, landslide, avalanche, cloud burst and pest attack. The essential features of the CRFs are as follows: i) The fund is maintained in the public account of the state. ii) Seventy-five per cent of the fund is financed by the Centre and 25 per cent by the respective states. iii) The Centre’s share is paid in two instalments, the second instalment to be released only after receipt of the Annual Report on Natural Calamities giving the details of expenditure incurred on relief. iv) The fund is administered by a State Level Committee (SLC) headed by the Chief Secretary of the state. v) Unspent balances in the fund are to be invested from time to time, and the interest earned accrued to the fund. vi) The Ministry of Home Affairs is the nodal ministry for overseeing the relief operations for all natural calamities, other than drought, hailstorm and pest attack, for which the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation is the nodal department. The CRF has been renamed as State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) by 13th Finance Commission. Financing of the SDRF is based on the recommendations of the Finance Commissions, which determine the annual size of the Funds as well as the respective contributions of the Union and State Governments. The FC-XIII had recommended differential State shares, with general category States contributing 25 per cent and special category States contributing 10 per cent, and the balance being contributed by the Union Government as grants-in-aid. The SDRF was reconstituted on the basis of 14th Finance Commission's recommendations on 30 July 2015. The revised norms for assistance from SDRF were issued on 8 April 2015.

6. The NCCF is operated under the broad framework laid down by 11th Finance Commission. It has a core corpus of Rs. 500 crore and is replenished through the National Calamity Contingent Duty imposed on cigarettes, pan masala, beedis, other tobacco products and cellular phones. Its other features are: i) It is maintained in the public account of the Government of India. ii) It is administered by a high level committee comprising the Agriculture Minister, Home Minister, Finance Minister, and the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. iii) The claim on the NCCF is made through a memorandum submitted by the State Government, which is assessed by a central team deputed for the purpose. The report of the team is assessed by an inter-ministerial group, which makes recommendations to the high level committee for release. iv) The assistance from the NCCF is only for immediate relief and rehabilitation and not for any reconstruction of assets or restoration of damaged infrastructure. NCCF was renamed as National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) on for National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF).pdf 28 September 2010. The NDRF is financed through the levy of a cess on certain items, chargeable to excise and customs duty, and approved annually through the Finance Bill. The requirement for funds beyond what is available under the NDRF is met through general budgetary resources. The revised norms for assistance from NDRF were issued on 8 April 2015.

7. The combination of two separate processes whereby water is lost on the one hand from the soil surface by evaporation and on the other hand from the crop by transpiration is referred to as evapotranspiration (ET).


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