The union finance ministry is ostensibly mulling over the Punjab government's ambitious plea for Rs. 2,330-crore special central assistance to "mitigate the effects of deficient rainfall", it has emerged.
The cash-strapped Parkash Singh Badal government is keeping a hawk-like vigil over the movement of its case in the union government for compensation owing to "drought-like conditions".
Apparently sensing that deficient rainfall has bounced a perfect opportunity to push the "friendly" Narendra Modi-led central government to adequately compensate the border state, chief minister Badal has been shooting off demi-official (DO) letters to union ministers almost at regular intervals.
The Badal administration has taken the plea that a similar drought-like situation had hit Punjab in the 2009 kharif season and that then Congress-led UPA government had released Rs. 800 crore as capital assistance for additional cost incurred by the state in providing power to the agriculture sector.
Such is the pro-activeness being displayed by the mandarins of the chief minister's office (CMO) that soon after they got the 'tip-off' that the drought compensation case is now with the union finance ministry, the CM on Friday dispatched a DO letter to union finance minister Arun Jaitley, seeking immediate approval to the state government's proposal.
"It is now given to understand that the ministry of agriculture has since forwarded our proposal for approval to the ministry of finance," Badal said in his August 22 letter to Jaitley.
Urging Jaitley to approve this proposal at the earliest so that Punjab farmers could be saved from additional financial stress, Badal has stated that in the absence of compensation, the state would be left with a higher financial deficit, while the financial health of farmers would be further impaired due to mounting debt stress.
Earlier, the state government's stand has been that "drought-like conditions" are prevailing in the state, with 58% deficiency in rainfall as on July 28.
On Friday, the chief minister, in his DO letter to the union finance minister, said: "There is thus a sure drought in the state."
In Punjab, Badal said, the government and the farmers are facing a situation where rainfall is deficient by "61% as on August 20."
"In these circumstances," Badal pointed out, "we had two options: either to allow kharif 2014 crops to lapse or to mitigate the effects of drought with extra efforts, inputs and expenditure both by the state and its farmers."
'Threat to food security'
Badal has argued that in case the crops were allowed to lapse, not only more than a million farmers would have suffered loss but also the country's food security would have been threatened with the loss of 11 million tonnes of rice which Punjab produces every year.
"We have opted to mitigate the effects of drought and save the crops at huge financial costs," Badal has said, attaching a detailed report of the steps taken to save crops.
The CM's plea is that farmers and the state government have spent huge amounts on diesel and electricity, respectively, to save crops and are extremely stressed.
Earlier, in his July 4 letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Badal had said, "Due to the current scanty rainfall, about 85,000 tubewells would require further deepening, costing about Rs. 700 crore. And, the state power corporation, which is diverting electricity from paying sectors to the non-paying agriculture sector is likely to incur an additional expenditure of Rs. 1,500 crore."