Due to uncertainty over the monsoon, the Centre on Tuesday began consultations with eight states, including Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra, on means to tackle the anticipated drought conditions.
Following a directive from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Cabinet Secretary B K Chaturvedi summoned the chief secretaries for individual consultations to assess the situation in the respective states.
According to official sources, the government is taking all steps to gear up for the challenge though it is early yet to declare a drought. The Union agriculture secretary is touring Maharashtra and Rajasthan to get first hand information.
The Centre has assured all assistance, including quick release of funds, to the affected states. Contingency crop planning and other emergency measures would also be discussed at the meeting.
Those meeting the Cabinet Secretary are Andhra Pradesh Chief Secretary Mohan Kanda, Gujarat Chief Secretary P K Lahiri, Haryana Chief Secretary Sunil Ahuja, Madhya Pradesh Chief Secretary B K Saha, Maharashtra Chief Secretary A K Mago, Punjab Chief Secretary J S Gill, Rajasthan Chief Secretary R K Nair and Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary V K Mittal.
Senior agriculture officials and secretaries concerned from various ministries are also participating in the consultations.
In Maharashtra, as many as 22 out of the 35 districts in the state are reeling under severe drought. The failure of monsoon for the fourth consecutive year compelled Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde to announce a drought-like situation in the Vidarbha region.
Almost the entire Rajasthan is reeling under a drought as the state has received only 80.48mm of rainfall against the 300.68mm received by this day in 2001. The state, where the bulk of the bajra crop is produced and where groundnut too is a major crop, is having a overall deficiency of 54% in its eastern and 51% in its western regions.
Monsoon failure has forced the Andhra Pradesh government to request Karnataka for 50tmc of water from the Almatti reservoir.
In western MP, regional meteorological centre director D P Dubey said, despite rainfall deficiency, there is still hope of the state receiving good rains in the coming days. West Madhya Pradesh, where a large part of the soya bean crop is grown, has had a 47% shortfall in rains since June 1 with the deficiency last week put at 57%. The situation was slightly better in east Madhya Pradesh with a 19% cumulative shortfall and last week's deficiency put at 46%.
The cumulative rainfall so far in the country is 12% below normal with 17 of the 36 met-subdivisions receiving deficient rainfall. The situation was even worse for the week ending July 21 when 26 of the 36 met subdivisions received deficient or scanty rainfall.
As far as Gujarat is concerned, the Solvent Extractors Association said nearly 25% of the groundnut crop has already got damaged. "Only 85-90% of the sowing has taken place," they said.
The Saurashtra belt, known for its groundnut crop, has received 43% deficient rainfall and there are no signs of a monsoon revival with 84% deficiency last week.
In Uttar Pradesh, the sugarcane-dominated western region, which is also known for large paddy cultivations, suffered a rainfall deficiency of 43%.
In Punjab, paddy has been sown over an area of 24.78 lakh hectares this season and lack of rains has forced farmers to spend more on diesel and generator sets for irrigation purposes. The production of basmati rice, mostly sown in the areas of Gurdaspur and Amritsar, whose transplantation continues till July 30, could also be hit due to lack of rains, official sources said.
In Haryana, the paddy crop sown by this time of the year is estimated at 650,000 hectares, about 100,000 hectares less than the area under crop production during the corresponding period last year.