Announcing the first major decision after assuming office as Chief Minister last week, K. Rosaiah on Wednesday said the government had declared 971 revenue mandals across 21 districts as drought-hit.

The announcement came as a surprise since the Congress government had rejected a concerted demand of the Opposition parties in the recently-concluded budget session of the Assembly to declare the State as drought affected as the rainfall deficit reached a peak of 57 per cent. Only two districts — Hyderabad and Srikakulam — have been excluded from the drought declaration.

At a press conference in Hyderabad, Mr. Rosaiah disclosed that Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy proposed to make the announcement on drought on September 4 but his tragic death in a helicopter crash on September 2 cut short the plan. He was making the announcement five days later as the rainfall deficit still stood at 32 per cent.

The Chief Minister explained that one reason why the YSR government withheld the drought declaration was the fear that banks would stop lending money to farmers. Now that the banks had disbursed loans to the tune of Rs. 13,600 crore out of the target of Rs. 14,500 crore, this apprehension had no basis.

Mr. Rosaiah said he expected an immediate assistance of Rs. 280 crore from the Centre towards input subsidy and Rs. 8 crore for the horticulture crop. Following the drought declaration, the farmers who had lost 50 per cent of the crop would be eligible for input subsidy. Their loans would also be rescheduled and fresh crop loans sanctioned.

A contingency plan that would cost Rs. 417 crore was prepared by the Agriculture Department to take up alternative crops, red gram and supply of inputs at a subsidy. The Horticulture Department had formulated a separate plan for Rs. 142.51 crore for raising vegetables, rejuvenation of sweet orange and supply of seed material.

Mr. Rosaiah said the government would soon submit a memorandum on the drought situation to the Centre for additional drought assistance. He said drought was not declared in Srikakulam district where 10 mandals were affected as the model code of conduct was in force for the by-election to the Tekkali Assembly constituency.

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