Govt mulls diesel subsidy for irrigation if monsoon is poor

During the drought years in 2009 and 2012, the previous United Progressive Alliance government had announced a 50 percent diesel subsidy for farmers in rainfall deficit areas.

New Delhi: With growing expectations of a subnormal monsoon this year, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh Monday said his department will soon move a cabinet note to introduce a diesel subsidy scheme to provide irrigation to protect standing crops in the event of a rainfall deficit.

In its second forecast Monday, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) said the southwest monsoon may be below normal, with the country likely to receive 93 percent of the long-period average rainfall. It also indicated the likelihood of the El Nino effect, which may result in deficient rains, especially in the latter half of the monsoon season.

"We are fully geared up to face any drought situation. We are alert and seriously working on measures to meet any eventualities arising out of drought or deficit rainfall situation," Singh said.

"We will soon move a cabinet note seeking approval for introduction of a diesel subsidy scheme for providing protective irrigation to standing crops in rainfall deficit areas," he said.

During the drought years in 2009 and 2012, the previous United Progressive Alliance government had announced a 50 percent diesel subsidy for farmers in rainfall deficit areas. Sources said the ministry is working on a similar scheme.

Besides the diesel subsidy, Singh said his ministry is working on a cabinet note to seek permission on six key measures much in advance so that they can be implemented quickly if states declare a drought.

The other cabinet proposals include rescheduling crop loans and providing interest subvention in drought-hit areas.

It proposes to raise the subsidy ceiling to buy seeds, including drought-tolerant varieties, and partially compensate farmers for resowing, he said.

Implementation of a special scheme for rejuvenation of perennial horticultural crops under the National Horticulture Mission, additional budget allocation under the Accelerated Fodder Development Programme to rainfall deficit states and additional allocation under the Rashtriya Kirshi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) and the National Mission on Sustainable Agriculture for drought mitigation measures are other cabinet proposals that the ministry is working on, he added.

Singh said state governments have been advised to consult the National Crisis Management Plan on drought while managing any probable drought or rainfall deficit situation. 

The Agriculture Minister said as per the IMD forecast, rainfall is likely to be lower at 85 percent of the average in north-west India and 93 percent in the central parts.

The water storage position in major reservoirs across the country, except in south India, is "satisfactory," he added.

"Contingency plans are already in place, states have been suitably advised, sufficient foodstocks are in place and quick action will be taken to tackle any situation arising out of deficient monsoon," he said.

States have been asked to "initiate location specific intervention, ensure availability of seeds for contingency cropping and keep aside 10 percent funds of RKVY to undertake interventions to mitigate drought situation," the minister said.

To use rainwater efficiently, the state governments have been asked to construct water harvesting structures, desilt canals, energise tubewells, replace/repair faulty pumps and promote cultivation of less water-consuming crops, he added.

That apart, Singh said central teams have been sent to important states to check their preparedness, while the Indian Council of Agricultural Research is organising state-level meetings to facilitate operation of district-level contingency plans.

Crop contingency plans have been developed for 500 of the 540 agricultural districts by the Central Research Institute of Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA) in collaboration with state governments concerned to deal with the challenges posed by an aberrant monsoon, he added.

The minister said that the government had a buffer stock of 20.64 million tonnes of rice and 41.58 million tonnes of wheat as on June 1.

The government is "alert" to the possibility of a below-normal monsoon this year and is preparing contingency plans, President Pranab Mukherjee said Monday in his address to the first joint sitting of Parliament after the general elections.