India to import food grain: FM

Pawar says situation grim; asks states to provide relief to drought-affected

Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee (R) during a meeting of State Agriculture and Horticulture Ministers in the context of deficient rainfall in New Delhi on Friday. PTI

On the other hand, the Centre, describing the situation arising out of the drought as “grim”, asked states to take immediate steps to provide relief to the drought-affected, especially small and marginal farmers.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said agriculture departments in the states must gear up their machineries to ensure that farmers are fully supported at this critical time.
But Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee told the same gathering that “The government has already decided it will go for imports to maintain the demand-supply mechanism.” According to him, pulses and edible oil were in short supply.

Mukherjee said the government would not reveal the timing of the import to ensure prices were not hiked “artificially” by international players.

“The moment the news spreads India is going for big imports, market prices will be hiked,” he said. Elaborating on the likely impact of the drought on the economy, Mukherjee said a drought-like situation could lead to inflation. A fall in the production of food grain and other agricultural commodities could put pressure on prices, he cautioned.
A drought-like situation, already declared in 246 districts of the country so far, posed tough challenges to the government, Mukherjee said, adding it would have a “cascading effect”.

However, Mukherjee asserted that the government was prepared to meet any emerging crisis and said the country had dealt with similar situations in the past. “We should not lose confidence in ourselves,” he said.

Pointing out that the Prime Minister was monitoring the situation, he said: “We have a good buffer stock of food grain. It is more than mandated. So it would provide relief in times of drought.”

Pawar also said the rabi crops can be planted early and over a large area to make for the Kharif losses due to a poor and erratic monsoon. “This is a good opportunity to ensure that wheat is sown on time, particularly in eastern Uttar Pradesh Bihar and West Bengal,” Pawar said.

Disclosing that there was every likelihood of a 15 per cent shortfall in paddy sowing, Pawar said there was an urgent need to promote alternate crops like pulses, sunflower, bajra, fodder and vegetables. “We need to mitigate the effects of the drought by taking immediate steps to protect the standing crop and plan meticulously for the ensuing Rabi season to compensate for the loss of production this season,” Pawar said.

He admitted that the situation was grim not just for crop sowing and crop health but also for sustaining animal health, livelihood, particularly for small and marginal farmers and landless labourers. In this context, Pawar asked states to set up control rooms at state capitals and district levels to deal with the drought situation.

“For the drought-affected population we should ensure availability of food, drinking water, fodder and employment. I am sure with your cooperation we would be able to tide over this crisis and regain the momentum of food grain production,” he said.

Ten states have declared 246 districts as drought affected. Some states have reported more than 60 per cent shortfall in rains this monsoon season.

Pawar also said the rise in prices of sugar, which is a result of falling production, needs to be checked.

DH News Service

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