The deficient monsoon has led to a “tough situation” through-out the country with several districts finding themselves in the grip of a severe drought. The gravity of the crisis made Prime Minister Manmohan Singh break the protocol and address the meeting of Chief Secretaries called by the Cabinet Secretary to tell the States to get ready with contingency plans to ensure adequate availability of food grains and other essential items.
Underlining the grim reality, Manmohan Singh warned, “In no case should we allow the citizens to go hungry. This calamity must be avoided at all costs”. The entire Government machinery of the Centre and the States has to start working in the top gear to keep a close watch on the food front.
The Center’s concern over drought was also reflected in the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s address to the nation from the ramparts of Red Fort on Independence Day. He said that the Centre was committed to tackle drought on priority.
The Prime Minister also took stock of the situation at the Chief Ministers’ conference. In all 177 districts have been declared drought hit. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Punjab, Haryana, Assam, Manipur, Himachal Pradesh and parts of other States are likely to be affected by the deficient rainfall. Manipur and Himachal Pradesh have declared drought in all districts.
Deficiency of Monsoon
The monsoon deficiently has dropped to 29 percent of the normal and the situation is grim. In different regions, northwest is 43 percent deficient, northeast 36 percent, central India 19 percent and south peninsula is 23 percent rainfall deficient. According to the Indian Meteorological Department, annual rains are likely to be 87 percent of the normal LPA (Long Period Average). Deficient rainfall will result in 20 percent decline in sowing of kharif crops.
According to the latest data of the Agriculture Ministry, the paddy coverage is 57.1 lakh ha less in 2008. There is also a deficiency of 1.17 lakh ha in area under total coarse seeds and 1.29 lakh ha in sugarcane.
In major announcements, the Centre has decided to postpone the date for repayment of farmers’ bank loans and provide additional support to farmers for payment of interest on short-term crop loans. In the long-term measures, the Prime Minister has exhorted the people to give more attention to programmes for water collection and storage. ‘Save Water’ should be one of our national slogans. To put the concerted action on the ground, the Centre has constituted a high-powered Group of Ministers under the chairmanship of Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to suggest immediate measures to help the farmers.
The Centre has taken may steps to help farmers face the drought and protect the standing crops from further damage. A diesel subsidy of 50 percent has been provided to farmers with a maximum of Rs. 1000 per hectare to facilitate supplementary irrigation in drought affected and rainfall deficient areas.
Additional power has been made available from the Central pool to the affected States such as Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Assam. The aim is to ensure that all agricultural operations are carried out in time to arrest loss in production. Against a total seed requirement of 110.96 lakh quintals required by different states, availability of 126.50 lakh quintals of seed has been ensured.
Procurement and distribution of Truthfully Labeled seeds has also been permitted as a special measure for kharif, 2009. Distribution of mini-kits has also been included as an admissible item under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) and are relaxation of seed varieties has been permitted under the National Food Security Mission (NFSM).
State agricultural universities and Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs) have been directed to ensure timely dissemination of advisory services to the agricultural extension staff and farmers.
Schemes such as the RKVY, the NFSM, the National Horticulture Mission (NHM), Macro Management in Agriculture (MMA) have been provided with additional funds and flexibility to use the available funds for crop development to support alternate crops. The Government has also placed special emphasis on improving the availability of farm credit through increased coverage and renewal of Kisan Credit Cards.
Some imaginative steps will have to be taken immediately to ensure that the prices of basic food items like sugar, pulses, edible oils and vegetables begin to come down. There is an urgent need for a coordinated approach involving the Centre and the States to lessen the gravity of the situation.