M A I N   N E W S

Finally, drought reality sinks in
Situation grim but we’re ready, says PM
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

Montek meets Manmohan

New Delhi: Deputy chairman of Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia today met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and is believed to have discussed the price situation and impact of delayed monsoon on farm sector output. The meeting is seen as significant as the government is drawing extensive plans to battle rising food prices, which many expect to go up further in view of poor monsoon in large parts of the country. — TNS

n 141 districts in the country facing drought

n Paddy worst hit with shortfall of six million hectares in sowing area

n States told to chalk out action plan, crack whip on hoarders

n The PM says PDS needs to be strengthened

New Delhi, August 8
For the first time the government today admitted that the country was facing a difficult situation due to the deficient rainfall and price rise. “The country is facing a tough situation,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Saturday, sending a strong warning to states that situation arising out of delayed monsoon should not be allowed to turn into a calamity.

While the PM assured the countrymen that there was enough food grain stock, his direction to states was to take strong action against hoarders and be prepared with a contingency plan to deal with the situation arising out of erratic monsoon. “In no case should we allow the citizens to go hungry. This calamity must be avoided at all costs,” the PM, said, adding that the states should not hesitate to take strong measures and intervene in the market if the need arises.

The situation was grim, the PM said, adding that 141 districts in the country were facing drought and there was a shortfall of six million hectares in the area under paddy crop this kharif season due to deficient rainfall. Agricultural operations had been adversely affected in several parts of the country, causing distress to farmers and their families, he said, adding that paddy was the worst affected crop.

Addressing a conference of state chief secretaries called in the backdrop of bad monsoon this year, Manmohan Singh said a contingency plan for crops, drinking water, human and animal health and fodder should be brought into operation without delay and a close watch be kept on availability of food grains and prices of essential commodities. Assuring Center’s full support to states regarding any additional assistance that may be required, he said the need of the hour was to act promptly, collectively and effectively.

While referring to the possibility of reduced production of kharif crops having an inflationary impact on prices of food items in the coming months, the PM said, “Of late, we have seen a rising trend in the prices of certain essential commodities like pulses, sugar and some vegetables. In order to contain the increase in prices of essential commodities, the Central and state governments will have to work together and strenghten the public distribution system, which is an important safety net, especially for the poor and helps cushion them against price rise. We will also have to ensure effective enforcement of stock holding limits and strong action against hoarders.”

On the food front, the PM said the major challenge was to ensure proper management and distribution of food stocks. He asked states to intervene in procurement process to supplement the Centre’s efforts.

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, Cabinet Secretary KM Chandrasekhar and Agriculture Secretary T Nand Kumar were among those who attended the meeting. More than 125 senior bureaucrats of states and UTs also attended the crucial meeting to evolve an action plan to tackle the crisis. States, including Punjab, Bihar, UP and MP, have demanded special packages to deal with tough situation.

The PM s suggested area-specific strategy. He recommended alternate crops in areas where paddy cannot be sown and maximising production of traditional crop in areas, which had adequate rainfall. Asking states to meticulously plan for the availability of seeds, fertilisers and other inputs to farmers for coming Rabi season, he said, “Since the country is deficit in pulses and oilseeds production, this may be a good opportunity to utilise available land by diversifying in Rabi pulses and oilseeds and enhancing their productivity”.

Lamenting over non-utilisation of funds by few states from Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojna and National Food Security Mission, the two major schemes for the agriculture sector launched by the Centre, he said funds meant for the farmers should not be left unutilised.



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