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Wheat, rice stocks will cushion drought impact: PM

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday assured the Chief Ministers that there was "much elbow room" to deal with the drought situation with high stock of grains and multiple livelihood programmes.

Updated: Aug 18, 2009, 00:26 AM IST

New Delhi: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
on Monday assured the Chief Ministers that there was "much elbow
room" to deal with the drought situation with high stock of
grains and multiple livelihood programmes.

But at the same time, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar
asked the states to start the relief operations in the drought
affected districts and clamp down on hoarders to ensure that
prices don`t shoot up while describing the year as difficult
year for both farmers and consumers.

"This is not the first time we are facing drought
situation. Fortunately, there is much more elbow room to deal
with the situation. The wheat and rice stocks are very high,"
Singh said at the day-long Chief Ministers` conference, where
besides drought many other issues were discussed.

"We have number of livelihood strategies like NREGA.
Resources are there to deal with situation. We will find a
practical and pragmatic solution," Singh said.

Pawar said at present there is 29 per cent deficit in
rainfall, which is a cause of concern. "Continuation of the
prevailing climatic conditions are likely to affect production
and productivity of the sown crop adversely, thereby
negatively impacting foodgrain availability," he said.

He said poor rain is having an impact on prices of food
articles, mainly pulses and sugar, causing "considerable
hardship". Noting that speculation in the market has fuelled
price rise, he said states should make judicious use of powers
under the Essential Commodities Act.

"Strong enforcement of the provisions of this Act would
deter any unhealthy practice of hoarding and black-marketing
and would contribute to the national effort at controlling
price rise," Pawar said.

Observing that only 18 states and Union Territories have
issued orders imposing stock limits on essential commodities,
the minister said "remaining states must also take necessary
steps in this regard".

The Centre`s directives came after prices shot up amid
apprehensions over farm production following a drought-like
situation in about one-fourth of the country.

Nine States —Assam, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand,
Manipur, Nagaland, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh --
have declared drought, partly or wholly, Pawar said and urged
the chief ministers to start relief operations with emphasis
on fodder and drinking water.

Already, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Manipur have
submitted memorandums, seeking aid from the National Calamity
Contingency Fund.

Accordingly, the Centre has sent teams to these states to
assess damage. "Funds from the NCCF will be approved by HLC
for release after the central teams come back and submit their
reports," Pawar said.

Nevertheless, the Centre has provided assistance to some
states under Calamity Relief Fund to take immediate relief
measures in affected areas.

"Considering the magnitude of the problem, the Central
government has also released the first instalment of CRF to
the states of Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, UP, pending submission
of the utilisation certificate for the previous allocation,"
Pawar said.

Notwithstanding the drought, the minister asked the
states to use resources to address the larger issue of food
security and directed them to save standing crops and supply
vital inputs like seed and fertiliser, as also farm loans.

To insulate farmers against the adverse impact of late
and scanty rains, the minister suggested that states provide
"comfort of income security" to them at micro level.

Moreover, he asked the states to lift stocks for ration
shops and ensure effective distribution among people below
poverty line.

These apart, Pawar stressed the need for area specific
agro-climatic based schemes and programmes to assess crop
losses in the remaining part of the Kharif season and try to
compensate the fall in output during the coming Rabi season.

Accordingly, states are advised to plan for higher crop
coverage in the Rabi season. "For this, the strategic use of
quality seeds, fertilizers, pest management and availability
of credit to the farmers in the Rabi season must be ensured,"
the minister explained.

"Wheat could be timely sown in rice–wheat farming system
especially in Eastern UP, Bihar and West Bengal to gain
higher productivity."

Bureau Report