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Govt grapples with drought shadow

New Delhi, July 27: With no sign of the monsoon in several regions, the Centre today held a meeting with senior officials of eight states still awaiting showers to take stock of the situation and prepare an action plan to meet a drought-like situation.

Cabinet secretary B.K. Chaturvedi convened the meeting with the states, including Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Maharashtra, on the directions of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Parts of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Kerala, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and certain areas in the Northeast have received scanty rainfall.

The government officials said the administration is gearing up for any challenge, but maintained it is too early to declare this year a “drought year”. The agriculture secretary is touring Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

The Centre has assured assistance and promised quick release of funds to the affected states. Contingency crop planning and other emergency measures were discussed at the meeting.

The chief secretaries of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh met Chaturvedi. Senior agriculture officials and secretaries from various ministries concerned are also part of the consultation process.

The deficient rainfall has hit sowing operations of most crops, including paddy, coarse cereals, sugarcane and pulses, senior agriculture ministry officials said.

The latest data of the agriculture ministry released recently shows that in places receiving below normal cumulative rainfall, kharif rice has been sown in 90 lakh hectares, compared to 92 lakh hectares last year.

The corresponding figure for coarse cereals is 88 lakh hectares, a major shortfall of 24 lakh hectares from last year. The shortfall for jowar, bajra and maize are 8, 12 and 4 lakh hectares, respectively.

About 90 per cent of groundnut sown in Saurashtra can survive without rain for 10 more days, agriculture ministry experts contended.

Officials of the ministry said the period after the next 10 days would be critical. It could be detrimental for the soybean crop if there is no rain in about a week’s time. Similar problems can rise for cotton in the absence of rain in Vidarbha and Marathwada.

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