The Empowered Group of Ministers on Drought, headed by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, on Wednesday approved an additional assistance of Rs 256 crore (Rs 2.56 billion) for rejuvenation of orchards in drought-hit Maharasthra.
However, the decision on extension of duty-free import of oilcakes to boost fodder supply was left to the Finance Ministry, which will take a call after assessing the demand and supply situation.
"The proposal on providing additional assistance of Rs 256 crore to protect orchards in drought-hit districts of Maharashtra has been approved," Pawar told PTI after the meeting in New Delhi.
The additional funds will be over and above Rs 400 crore (Rs 4 billion) already released under the National Horticulture Mission through a special scheme launched last month for rejuvenation of orchards in the drought-affected regions of Maharashtra. Under this scheme, the Centre will bear 50 per cent cost, while the rest will come from the farmer.
The EGoM meeting, attended by Finance Minister P Chidambaram, Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, Railway Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal and Food Minister K V Thomas among others, reviewed the situation in drought-hit states like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
It deliberated on availability and price situation of fodder in drought-hit areas and discussed the proposal on extending the duty-free import of oil cakes for six months more to improve fodder supply and curb price rise.
When asked about this proposal, Chidambaram said, "This has to be decided on file at Department level after assessing the domestic production and import level."
Extending the duty-waiver to other varieties of oil cakes like copra cake, palm kernel cake and rice bran extraction will also be decided on file and will be communicated to the EGoM Chair, he said.
The duty-free import of oil cakes lapsed on March 31, this year. The EGoM was informed the price of fodder products like soya oil cakes have started rising after the lapse of duty-free import and there was need to continue duty-waiver to check price rise and enhance domestic supply.
The country has imported 53,090 tonnes worth Rs 84.52 crore (Rs 845.2 million) oil cakes between September 2012 and January 2013, against 18,769 tonnes worth Rs 21.27 crore (Rs 212.7 million) in the same period last year, as per the official data.
The EGoM also approved continuation of schemes to ensure adequate fodder in drought-affected states during this fiscal.
To protect dairy industry and ensure farmers get additional income from cattle rearing in drought-hit areas, the EGoM approved a proposal for providing feed concentrates to cattle at Rs 1 per kg per cattle per day at subsidised rate of 25-50 per cent of the cost under National Mission on Protien Supplements (NMPS) during the current fiscal as well.
It also extended the assistance for feed and feed supplements for goats and sheeps under NMPS for this year.
The EGoM also discussed enhancement of central share for establishing fodder block making units from 50 per cent to 75 per cent for this fiscal for co-operatives and federation, sources added.
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/Reuters