The Union government on Wednesday announced relief measures for the drought-hit areas, including an increase in the number of assured workdays under the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to 150 from 100 days and reduction in the interest on crop loans to 7 per cent from 12 per cent during the current fiscal.

During calamity, crop loan is converted into term loan payable in three years. It is expected that continuation of the interest relief for the next two years will be announced in the Union budget proposals next year.

No loss in area under rice

Announcing the decisions taken at a meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM), Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said the overall South West Monsoon deficiency had come down to 8 per cent but the delayed rain and its erratic distribution would hit the production of kharif coarse cereals, pulses and oilseeds. There was no loss in the area under rice, though there would be some effect on productivity (yield per hectare) due to untimely rain.

It was too early to assess the quantum of loss as sowing was just completed, the Minister said.

The States where the relief measures would come into force are Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat, which have declared drought in about 400 talukas. Central teams have visited Karnataka, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Expressing dissatisfaction with the India Meteorological Department’s assessment of rain, he said it was “misleading” that the IMD categorised some districts as normal, even when some talukas in the district remain deficient.

He gave the example of Satara district in Maharashtra, where Mahabaleshwar received heavy rain, impelling the IMD to declare that the district had received normal rain, whereas there were several talukas that did not get “even one inch of rain.” This must be kept in mind while formulating strategies for drought management.

To accelerate projects for drinking water, the Rural Development Ministry would release before September 30 funds to five States without insisting on utilisation certificates for the first instalment. The States are Maharashtra (Rs. 167 crore), Karnataka (Rs. 286 crore), Gujarat (Rs. 245 crore), Punjab (Rs. 37 crore) and Haryana (Rs. 115 crore).

Seed subsidy expanded

In addition to this, the seed subsidy scheme would be extended and relief given in fodder and feed programmes.

Apart from this, the Centre and States would provide loans at the rate of Rs. 30,000 per hectare with interest subvention to the tune of Rs. 261 crore under a NABARD scheme to save horticulture crop in the affected areas.

Mr. Pawar said the High Level Committee on Calamities that met on Wednesday also decided to extend financial assistance to the tune of Rs. 682.12 crore for Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Haryana for the natural calamities they suffered last year.