On 15 August, our favourite newspaper, the Indian Express, carried a lead article on the edit page by its editor, Shekhar Gupta. The learned editor tells his readers, in case they are feeling depressed with the drought scenario, to drive down to Punjab – to Shimla, Chandigarh or Amritsar. ‘Just drive out’ he says… don’t fly’.
For then you will like Ali Baba be able to enter the magic cave and lo and behold! you will see ‘Totally lush, bounteous fields of paddy stretch endlessly into the horizon on both sides of the highway.’ And he goes on: ‘So where is the drought? Where are the caked, cracked and dried mud-flats with withered saplings that characterise drought? And mind you, Punjab and Haryana are among the worst hit states this year, notching up a rainfall deficit of 50 to 70 percent…’
Lord’s Own Voice, speaking through its prophet, tells us that why this is so:
The reason Punjab and Haryana, and to an extent western Uttar Pradesh across the Yamuna from Haryana’s grain bowl, can grin and bear at least one terrible drought is the foresight of regional leaders and some Central governments that made such decisive investments in irrigation in the fifties and the sixties. That, even more than any improved seed varieties or pesticides, is what made this the green revolution zone. The division of the Indus system rivers almost to the last litre between India and Pakistan also provided an impetus to plans to trap as much surplus water as possible in so many reservoirs which also, in turn, helped constantly recharge underground aquifers with constant recharge. Of course, it helped that most of this was done in decades when the most retrograde environmental and jholawala movements in the history of mankind had not yet arrived on the scene.
Editors and journalists like all other citizens are perfectly entitled to hold whatever opinion about themselves and the world. That is their right to free speech. We also know that no journalist is under any compulsion to state the source of what he claims.We certainly care for such evidence.
Even as Mr Gupta was writing his piece, disregarding all evidence, NASA had already published some more fresh material on its website – which was widely publicized and which Mr Gupta is unlikely to have missed. Here are some extracts:
‘Beneath northern India’s irrigated fields of wheat, rice, and barley … beneath its densely populated cities of Jaiphur (sic) and New Delhi, the groundwater has been disappearing. Halfway around the world, hydrologists, including Matt Rodell of NASA, have been hunting for it.
Where is northern India’s underground water supply going? According to Rodell and colleagues, it is being pumped and consumed by human activities — principally to irrigate cropland — faster than the aquifers can be replenished by natural processes. They based their conclusions — published in the August 20 issue of Nature — on observations from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE).
The northern Indian states of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana have all of the ingredients for groundwater depletion: staggering population growth, rapid economic development and water-hungry farms, which account for about 95 percent of groundwater use in the region.
They found that groundwater levels have been declining by an average of one meter every three years (one foot per year). More than 109 cubic km (26 cubic miles) of groundwater disappeared between 2002 and 2008 — double the capacity of India’s largest surface water reservoir, the Upper Wainganga, and triple that of Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in the United States.’
In the meantime, the Times of India published another story, highlighting another angle that environmentalists have been drawing our attention to for a long time: the pollution of the Sutlej waters due to discharge of industrial effluents to the extent that it has started destroying bot aquatic and human life. Part of the later has to do with disappearing ground water and the resort therefore, to the polluted Sutlej water by villagers in Ropar district.
Now as it happens, those whom Mr Gupta derisively calls the ‘most retrograde movements in the history of mankind’ have been warning us precisely about this and piling up evidence upon evidence on the matter. But now the evidence comes from his very dear United States of America. Anybody even remotely familiar with Gupta’s writing knows that he has only one, very very predictable line of argument: how they do it in America! The answer to every question in this gentleman’s pieces, you can predict with the accuracy of a mathematician, will take this simple route. Why then did he not take this evidence from fatherland seriously?
We will reserve our comment on the intention for now, even though everybody knows that there are powerful corporate interests pusing for a relentless drive to insutrialization and Mr Gupta may actually be a committed believer of all he says. Howebvr, it is equally common knowledge that increasingly opinion makers in the media – editors and senior journalists in particular – are known to be making huge amounts of extra income (and other forms of assets like free shares, houses and so on) from sources other than those provided by their employment. This self important and self-righteous tribe of people in contemporary India who think they are above every body else and cannot open their mouths without a claiming a moral high ground, also needs to be made accountable. We are not suggesting that any particular person is in the pay of anybody else – even though the grapevine has innumerable stories to that effect – of the ultimate moral corruption of most mediapersons. But surely when opinions are expressed as ‘disinterested’ and ‘objective’, the public must have the right to know whether these opinions are actually disinterested. And what better way can there be when politicians have to disclose their incomes, and we are calling upon judges as well to follow suit, that we also demand the same of editors and mediapersons.