State governments, facing the spectre of the worst drought in decades, should not be playing politics with “inflated” demands for the Centre’s assistance, says Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh.

While Mr. Ramesh and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar were presented with demands including thousands of crores for large irrigation projects that have little to do with 2012 drought relief during their tour of Karnataka, Gujarat and Maharashtra this week, not a single State has yet responded to his Ministry’s month-old offer of increased support for National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) due to the drought’s impact on the rural labour market.

‘States were sleeping’

“I have alerted all the States with a letter on June 29th. I had even given them a [Meteorological department] weather map showing monsoon deficiencies and the likelihood of drought. But States have been sleeping since then,” Mr. Ramesh told reporters on Friday.

Asking the States to draw up a contingency plan, that latter had said the Centre was willing to revise NREGA’s labour budget to meet the increased demand for jobs under the employment guarantee scheme as the drought forces millions of farm workers into unemployment. “We are expecting at least a 25 to 30 per cent increase, based on the experience of the poor monsoon of 2009. But that is really not a good guide since this drought is of a totally different magnitude,” he said, adding that States have now been asked to submit revised labour budgets by the end of the week. The NREGA employment limit has also been expanded from 100 days to 150 days for all taluks that are notified as drought-affected.

According to the Rural Development Minister, this is the worst drought in 40 years in Karnataka, and the worst in the last two decades in Maharashtra and Gujarat. The two Ministers intend to visit Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana which have also been badly hit next week.

In each State capital, they have been presented with what Mr. Ramesh calls “inflated” demands. Karnataka wants a Rs. 11,000 crore package, while Gujarat and Maharashtra have asked for Rs. 14,000 crore and Rs. 10,000 crore respectively.

“Everybody loves a good drought,” he said, quoting journalist P. Sainath’s phrase. “It’s being used by States to make huge demands of the Centre… If their demands are not met, then they can put the blame on us.”

“We have asked States to separate the long-term projects from immediate drought relief and resubmit the memoranda in a week’s time,” said Mr. Ramesh.

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