Bengaluru: The Karnataka government on Monday set aside ₹91 crore for cloud seeding, a process that uses chemicals to aid precipitation in clouds, to help increase the chances of rain and some relief to the drought-hit population of the state.
The Cabinet approved the amount, to be spread over two years, after the state faced another drought year in both Kharif and Rabi growing seasons, adding to the problems of the farming community that has been reeling under the deepening agrarian crisis due to scanty rains, growing debt burden and plummeting prices of produce among other problems.
“The preparations for this would take about 40-45 days," Krishna Byre Gowda, Karnataka’s Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (RDPR) minister, said on Monday. He said that they would have to get approvals from the Centre as well.
Political parties have tried to cash in on the agrarian distress by announcing loan waivers in the run up to state and national elections. Karnataka chief minister H.D.Kumaraswamy had put in place a system to implement his ambitious ₹45,000-crore farm loan waiver. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who just stormed to power at the Centre, had promised direct income support of ₹6,000 per year to 1.2 million small and marginal farmers holding cultivable land up to two hectares.
While money has helped the farmer to some extent, methods like cloud seeding being seen as the technical intervention to solve the acute drinking water problem for humans and animals as well as recharging the rapidly depleting ground water table.
The chemicals are attached to the wings of a specially designed aircraft that will carry the silver iodide, potassium chloride and sodium chloride — chemicals that can aid precipitation when seeded into rain-bearing clouds.
The cloud-seeding procedure is aimed at increasing the amount of precipitation from the clouds, thus leading to higher chances of rain.
As Karnataka has faced at least 15 droughts since 2000, the state has continued its focus on short-term remedies for the water problems the state has been facing. Since 2002, the state’s irrigation allocation has steadily increased from a little over ₹1,600 crore to around ₹16,000 crore in 2018-19. But its pursuit of pumping in money to fund large irrigation projects has had little impact on the total irrigated area that has seen only a marginal increase from around 2.45 million hectares in 2002 to around 3.1 million ha in 2016-17 from all sources, including canals, tanks, lift irrigation, tube and borewells. But this is still below 30% of the total agricultural area of around 10.7 million ha, which leaves most of the state’s farmers at the mercy of unpredictable rainfall.
Gowda said that the cloud seeding done in 2017 did show good results. He said that there was roughly 27% enhancement of precipitation in the areas covered. While quoting experts, he said that the cloud seeding is believed to have added 2.5-5 tmcft of water in the state.
Though public sector aircraft maker, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has offered its services, the state government said that it had already finished the tender process and will continue with the private bidder.