Urmul Trust

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The Thar Desert

Thar Desert: The current scenario

The western regions of Rajasthan are hot arid zones receiving an erratically distributed annual rainfall of less than 50 centimetres. Temperatures vary between 48-50 degrees in summers and fall below freezing points in winters. These oscillations in the climate Averages for this century suggest that the drought cycle has increased from one good year in three to one in only six years. This is not to mention some pockets in the Thar that are almost perpetually drought-prone. These conditions make ‘living’ in the desert ‘with hard reality.

’ The opportunities are severely constricted and over the past thirty years, the Indian Thar has witnessed one of the fastest demographic growths in the country. This fast-growing human population along with rising numbers of livestock is spread over large dispersed stretches. More than eighty percent of this population resides in rural areas. A peculiar feature of desert demography is its scattered nature. Despite such a high growth rate, population densities for most of these districts vary between 7-15 people per sq. km. These would rank among the lowest for the country. This crowding of the Thar has not been accompanied by any commensurate upgrading of infrastructures for delivering essential services like primary health, education, and drinking water, an extension of banking or agriculture, and livestock-related services.

Nonetheless, scenarios have changed drastically in the last decade and more, owing to globalization and its localization. The economy, the landscape, and the society have witnessed an intense erratic reconfiguration. Actions of the governments, media, businesses, and civil societies have dramatic effects on the village, its culture, economy, community relations, lifestyles, and aspirations. The money flows have drifted from local loops of circulation to unbalanced leakage out of the village level system; newer technology has come into play as a great resource for the rural communities for communication and connecting to the bigger world. Alarmingly though this is also resulting in a lot of money leakages as these utilities are slowly converting into lifestyle commodities.

Livelihood opportunities for those who have the resources have expanded with communication and infrastructure, improving the market and linkages prominently. Increased associations with the ‘outside’ world are influencing markets as well as the societal structuring. The rural economy of the Thar is still largely pastoral, dependent on animal husbandry and localised production of handicrafts. However, their operations and market linkages have improved exponentially. Two major developments, NREGA and local self-governance (Panchayti Raj), which have come are enabling a lot of opportunities for new local financial loops. These have complicated the dynamics simultaneously, and are proving to be definite game-changer in this fluid social setup, though empowering the local, but also facilitating the global through direct and indirect implosion of spendable income. However, these have invigorated a pattern of erratic and unequal modernization.