As the drought situation is showing no signs of easing, the Centre has set up a top crisis management team being called the empowered group of ministers on drought.
Water levels in 81 key reservoirs in the country remained below the 10-year average of 45 per cent at 38 cent, moving marginally up by two percentage points over the last week.
These reservoirs are crucial for irrigation and hydropower. If the rains remain patchy, the water levels may not reach their previously normal limits and hamper even the rabi crop, which is sown during the winter.
On Thursday, the Maharashtra Cabinet declared 10 of its districts as drought-hit, taking up the total number of districts facing a drought or a drought-like situation to 177.
The newly formed group would meet soon to monitor the situation and ensure that relief measures — including cash compensation — were transferred swiftly to the states, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar said on Wednesday.
The crisis management team, to be headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, will have Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Petroleum Minister Murli Deora, Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee and Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde as members.
In the changed situation, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting with chief ministers on August 17, which was originally supposed to focus on internal security, will also discuss the drought situation.
What’s more, the government’s battle against drought has been made tougher by soaring prices of food articles.
Kewal Ram, senior economic adviser in the ministry of consumer affairs, said as prices spiral, the Centre was awaiting a slew of measures it imposed recently to show results.
Pulses and sugar prices have surged between 50 and 90 per cent year-on-year, government data showed.
Despite being the largest producer of pulses, India has to rely on imports of about 2 million tonne annually because of high consumption.