With the southwest monsoon not reviving and the prices of essential commodities, vegetables and milk rising, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday sought details of the situation from various departments.

NEW DELHI: Sources said Dr. Singh was monitoring the situation on a daily basis. He has convened a meeting of Chief Ministers on Internal Security for August 17, at which a contingency plan for kharif and advance planning for rabi, and other issues would be taken up. The Chief Ministers would be requested to cooperate with the Centre, taking measures to control price rise by coming down heavily on speculators and hoarders. Special attention would be given to strengthening the Public Distribution System.

The government will do everything possible to keep prices under check, the Prime Minister is reported to have told a FICCI delegation that called on him on Tuesday. He was quite confident that given the buffer stock, it would be able to handle the food inflation, FICCI secretary-general Amit Mitra told journalists later.

Districts identified

Following a meeting with Chief Secretaries last Saturday, some States have identified the drought-affected districts and are seeking additional assistance to help farmers in distress. Bihar and Haryana are the worst hit.

Anxiety over the drought situation mounted after the monsoon weakened in the last 10 days, dimming hopes of revival of the kharif paddy. There is a shortfall of nearly 6 million hectares in the sowing of paddy. The acreage under sugarcane and oilseeds is also lower than in the corresponding period last year.

Experts have pointed out that the shortfall in paddy area and the harm to the standing crop will bring about a steep decline in the production of kharif crops, mainly paddy. This may fuel a further hike in the prices of essentials.

Do not panic: Pranab

Earlier, addressing the annual conference of Chief Commissioners and Directors-General of Income Tax here, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said deficient rainfall would result in a 20 per cent decline in sowing of summer crops, but there was no need to panic.

There is no point in pressing the panic button. This country managed the centurys worst drought in 1987. We transported drinking water through the Railways. We organised fodder for cattle. This country has the experience of handling the situation and I will advise not to press the panic button, he said adding that there was a contingency plan in place.

Pawar convenes meet

Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has convened a meeting of the State Agriculture Ministers for August 21 to discuss the situation arising from the deficient monsoon.

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