The Nitish Kumar government, on Wednesday, declared 33 out of the 38 districts of the state ‘drought-hit’, thereby paving the way for offering relief packages to the affected farmers.
The decision was taken at a special cabinet meeting convened at 1, Aney Marg, official residence of chief minister Nitish Kumar, in view of a marked deficiency in rainfall and depletion in ground water levels in these districts.
The declaration of drought came about a month or so after 20 districts of the state, most of them in north Bihar, were ravaged by floods, which claimed the lives of 200 persons and affected nearly six million others.
At Wednesday’s special cabinet meeting, it was also decided at the meeting that a crisis management group, headed by the chief secretary AK Sinha, would review the overall ‘drought’ situation on a weekly basis.
Cabinet coordination department principal secretary Brajesh Mehrotra and disaster management department (DMD) principal secretary Vyasji said the 33 districts witnessed “more than 20% below normal” rainfall this season.
According to an agriculture department report, overall Bihar recorded a 25% shortfall in rainfall, receiving 668.6 mm rain against the average of 892.2 mm, during the June 1 to September 11 period.
“This was because the monsoon trough lasted for only 15 days in the affected districts as against the normal period of 45-46 days,” said Vyasji.
This resulted in a lower water table in Aurangabad, Nawada and Nalanda. “The drought may adversely hit agriculture production, animal resource and employment generation”, Vyasji said, adding, “five other dustricts - Arwal, Banka, Rohtas, Kishanganj and Araria – are under watch”.
The DMD principal secretary said though 88% of paddy plantation target had been met, this was not included in the criteria for the declaring the overwhelming majority of districts as drought affected.
“The paddy saplings that had been transplanted were dying in absence of adequate rainfall. Our effort is salvage whatever we can with the help of diesel subsidy,” he said.
The officials maintained that the state government would provide assistance to farmers under the state disaster response fund (SDRF) and national disaster response fund (NDRF), with immediate effect.
Moreover, the collection of co-operative loans, land rent and cess, irrigation charges and electricity bills, related to farming activity, will remain suspended for the fiscal year 2013-14.
“A contingency plan is being drawn up for saving standing crop, planting alternative crops, creating employment for rural people, taking care of the cattle and ensuring availability of drinking water,” they stated.
Experts said this year’s kharif harvest was expected to be not more than 50-60 lakh metric tonnes (MT), much lower 2012 production of 82 lakh MT and well short of the 91 lakh MT.
This was thanks to late transplantation of paddy in August (almost 60%) following insufficient rain in July, the peak season for paddy transplantation.
“About 50% of the total paddy cropped area (15 lakh hectare) face moisture stress at reproductive and flowering stage”, said Dr S S Singh, head, crop research, ICAR research complex for eastern region, Patna.
The 33 districts declared drought-hit on Wednesday are Patna, Bhojpur, Buxar, Kaimur, Nalanda, Gaya, Jehananbad, Aurangabad, Nawada, Munger, Sheikhpura, Lakhisarai, Jamui, Begusarai, Khagaria, Purnia, Katihar, Madhepura, Saharsa, Supaul, Bhagalpur, Saran, Siwan, Gopalganj, Muzaffarpur, Sitamarhi, Vaishali, Shehar, East Champaran, West Champaran, Madhubani, Darbhanga and Samastipur.