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Govt divided on drought
- Minister defends DMs, counters Manjhi on data

Patna, July 25: Agriculture minister Narendra Singh today openly disagreed with chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, who had on Wednesday censured district magistrates in the House for misleading him on the drought situation.

“It is wrong to blame DMs for giving wrong reports on drought. It may give personal satisfaction by blaming the DMs. But the fact is that districts lack adequate instruments to measure rainfall. Most of the present instruments are faulty. We have now asked the statistics department to install modern instruments in every block of the state,” Narendra said while replying to a special debate in the Assembly today on the drought situation in the state. The chief minister was seated next to the minister while he was making his reply.

Narendra also ruled out declaring the state drought-hit at this stage. “The rain deficiency is about 20 per cent in the state. Drought can be declared only if the deficiency is 50 per cent. Around 41 per cent sowing has taken place and sowing takes place right up to August,” he said. The minister, however, stated that the government would not hesitate to declare drought in the state if the situation arises.

The chief minister had on Wednesday openly aired his anger at district magistrates inside the Assembly and accused them of misleading him on the drought situation during a video-conference last Saturday. Manjhi had remarked that he was perhaps the first chief minister to hold detailed talks with DMs on the issue of drought. The chief minister had cited the example of Bahu Bazar in Naubatpur block, 60km from Patna, where, he said, he noticed that the fields were dry. Manjhi then announced he would give the DMs another chance and asked them to visit the grassroots areas to take stock of the actual situation.

The chief minister had said he would hold another video-conferencing either Friday (today) or Saturday. The chief minister’s announcement was greeted by thumping of desks by the BJP benches while ruling party MLAs had looked stunned.

Today, Manjhi was busy in the legislative Houses and is likely to hold the second round of video-conferencing soon.

However, Narendra Singh’s statement has caused anxiety in the JDU, particularly among those loyal to Manjhi. “The authority of the CM has been questioned by Narendra Singh with his show of disapproval inside the Assembly,” a senior party MLA said. He pointed out that Narendra had the “habit” of making statements that put the party in an embarrassing situation.

The MLA recalled that during the Lok Sabha polls, Narendra had openly spoken out against the JDU’s official candidate in Jamui. More recently, Narendra had said inside the Assembly that the BJP and JDU could be allies again. “He gets away with his statements because of his seniority and the fact that he is a recognised leader of the Rajput caste,” the MLA added.

Narendra, during his speech today, also praised Manjhi and said the chief minister had formed a high level group under the chief secretary to monitor the situation and even written to the Union agriculture minister. Narendra said the government was on the job and diesel subsidy would be distributed among farmers and borings would be made operational.

He appealed to the BJP to help in coping with the changed atmosphere. Earlier, BJP MLAs Sanjay Kumar Tiger and Usha Vidyarthi had accused the government of being insensitive towards the plight of farmers facing a drought-like situation.