A day after the Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar, in his meeting with prime minister Narendra Modi, raised a red flag on poor monsoon, agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh here on Tuesday confirmed possibility of a drought-like conditions in western India. "Monsoon is delayed. Western India is expected to be worst affected and a drought-like situation might prevail in some pockets," Singh told reporters after he met a delegation from Maharashtra. Little rain because of a truant southwest monsoon means the sowing will not start in most areas, which will push up food prices.
The minister said a separate contingency plan will be worked out along with the state governments for drought-prone regions, such as Vidharbha in Maharashtra, to ensure there is no shortage of drinking water and fodder. "Vidharbha region is drought-prone. We will think of all possible measures to help farmers so that they are not forced to commit suicide due to crop failure," he added. Quoting the Met office, the minister said there was possibility of improving the monsoon after July 6. He said if it happens the loss in sowing of kharif crops will be compensated.
The minister further said the agriculture ministry will soon move a cabinet note on providing diesel and seed subsidy if states declare drought in some areas. A delegation-led by Maharashtra BJP president Devendra Fadanvis updated the minister about the monsoon situation in the Vidharbha region and sought special measures to tackle the possible drought this year.
The overall area under kharif crops last week decreased to 131.52 lakh hectares from 200.96 lakh hectares in the year-ago period. Sowing of kharif (summer) crops, including paddy, starts with the onset of the southwest monsoon in June. According to the India Meteorological Department, the monsoon this year is expected to be 93 per cent of the long-term average. For the country as a whole, the cumulative rainfall up to June 25 was 40 per cent below the average. Conditions are expected to improve in July and August. Besides the bad monsoon, the Iraq crisis has also a hit inflation, driving up the cost of petrol and diesel.
The union food secretary has written to all states asking them to crack down on hoarders. The government had ordered a crackdown on hoarding on June 17 to control the rising food prices and imposed export restrictions on certain farm commodities. "The prices of some of the commodities specially onion and potato are a matter of concern," officials of the ministry headed by Ram Vilas Paswan said, noting that on Friday, one-day meeting to be chaired by Finance Minister Arun Jaitly will be held, to discuss urgent steps to address the issue.
Food minister Ramvilas Paswan said there are enough stocks of wheat and rice with the government to last more than a year and there is also no shortage of sugar, but the prices are being raised by the hoarders to take advantage of a little lull in monsoon. The Centre will also press for creation of a national common market for food items and removal of the state border barriers by amending the Agricultural Produce Market Commitee (APMC) Act.
On Monday, Pawar in his meeting with the PM also raised the concerns arising out of a poor monsoon. The NCP leader was in-charge of the agriculture Ministry for 10 years during the United Progressive Alliance rule.
Official data shows that the Marathwada region of Maharashtra has not received any rain so far. There was some rain in Madhya Maharashtra between June 4 and 11. Vidarbha, a region which has seen a number of farmers' suicide, has not received rain after June 18. The region was dry in the June 4-11 week. Marathwada and Madhya Maharashtra are chronically deficient in rainfall. The year before last, there was a drinking water crisis in the region and water had to be carried in trains.