The central government on Tuesday approved a slew of steps, and assistance worth nearly Rs 2,000 crore, to tackle “drought-like conditions” in 320 districts — constituting over half the country.
After a high-level meet, Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar told reporters that the situation could turn out to be more serious than it was in 2009, when India had its worst drought in three decades.
The planting of summer crops lagged by as much as 8% overall and major states, including Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Rajasthan, witnessed a significant fall in sowing.
An empowered group of ministers, headed by Pawar, announced a 50% subsidy on diesel as farmers would have to rely on generators to pump water into their fields. It also approved a subsidy on seed prices to enable a changeover to alternative crops.
The funding of R1,440 crore for crop-protection purposes in key food-growing states also received the committee’s approval.
The monsoon has been 20% deficient overall and in 19 of the 36 meteorological zones, it has been scanty. In about 64% of India’s 627 districts, rainfall has been below normal.
The monsoon is critical because two-thirds of the Indian population depends on agriculture for its livelihood, and 60% of Indian farms do not have assured irrigation. A drought could crimp food output and hit agricultural income, which supports a third of the country’s population.
Concerned over the price of lentils — a staple food for a majority of Indians — rising by more than 20% from last year, Pawar called for a cabinet proposal on subsidy for pulses.
Rains also replenish 84 nationally monitored water reservoirs, vital for drinking, power and irrigation purposes. However, the water in these basins currently stands only at 24% of the “full-reservoir level”, Pawar said.As many as 16 states across the country, including Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, West Bengal and Maharashtra, are facing a water crisis. The panel also set aside Rs 453 crore for five states — Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Haryana — to meet their drinking water needs alone.