Drought bites in, rain revival hopes recede

Manmohan Singh summons chief ministers to evolve emergency steps

As a matter of fact, the Centre had foreseen that large parts of the country would be in the throes of drought. On Thursday, the Centre constituted an empowered group of ministers (EGoM) headed by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee to take decisions and approve innovative schemes, besides examining the existing measures for suitable modification.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Home Minister P Chidambaram, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde are members of EGoM. The other members include Rural Development Minister C P Joshi, Petroleum Minister Murli Deora and Urban Development Minister Jaipal Reddy.

The Centre has confirmed that 177 out of 626 districts in the country are faced with drought. Coupled with this is the stark scenario of no further rainfall in the coming weeks.

The Indian  Meteorological Department declared 29 per cent shortage of rainfall on Friday. While 72 per cent of the districts received either deficient or scanty rainfall as of August 12, the monsoon situation worsened in the last two weeks.

The states, which are considered as the country’s food basket—Manipur, Assam, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Maharashtra, West Bengal, and parts of Orissa—are facing grim monsoon and drought situation.

Bleak situation
Faced with this bleak situation and the potential damage the drought condition could cause to the government’s aam aadmi economic measures, Singh will discuss the steps the concerned state governments would have to take to prevent an agrarian crisis.

Besides, the meeting will also discuss measures that could be initiated to contain the sky-rocketing prices of essential commodities, including foodgrain and vegetables. The states are likely to be asked to take stern measures against those found hoarding and black marketing.

At the same time, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar will hold a meeting of all state food and civil supplies ministers on August 19 to discuss streamlining of the distribution of foodgrain under the public distribution system. This will be followed two days later with a meeting with state agriculture ministers to review the situation across the country.

To contain soaring price rise, the Food Ministry is planning to offload about 30 lakh tonne of wheat and 15 lakh tonne of rice out of its reserves in the open market. Not just this, if the proposal of the Food Ministry is implemented, the ban on export of wheat and non-basmati rice is likely to continue, so also the regime of importing wheat at zero duty, Ministry sources said. The proposal has been mooted amid apprehensions over rise in prices of foodgrains, mainly rice, in view of a slump in paddy acreage following the poor monsoon.

According to tentative estimates, compared to last year, failure of monsoon is likely to take a toll on foodgrain production as indications are that there would be a shortfall of 10 per cent in paddy production and over 5 per cent in pulses, besides oil seed. This would adversely impact on food prices.

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