With the India Meteorological Department declaring on Thursday a deficiency of 29 per cent in the southwest monsoon, the number of drought-affected districts has risen to 177. Last week, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said 141 districts were drought-hit.

Dr. Singh will discuss the drought and price rise situation at a meeting of Chief Ministers here on Monday. Union Food and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar has convened a meeting of State Food and Civil Supplies Ministers for Wednesday. This will be followed by a meeting of State Agriculture Ministers on August 21.

Speaking to The Hindu here on Thursday, Mr. Pawar said 177 districts were affected by drought or drought-like situation. These districts were mostly in eight States, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur.

Mr. Pawar said the Centre had received memoranda for assistance from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and Manipur. Central teams are ready to tour these States but on their request, they will be sent after the Janmashtami festival and the Independence Day.

Ruling out import of essential commodities for now, he said that despite a shortfall in paddy and sugarcane cultivation, there were enough food stocks to meet the situation. Kharif is the first season. Our attempt is to make good the kharif shortfall in production in the rabi sowing season. That is why we have advised States to go in for kharif contingency planning and advance rabi sowing.

Asked about a diesel subsidy to facilitate pumping of groundwater to irrigate fields, Mr. Pawar said, We have to save the standing crop. There is no choice.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Commissioner N.B. Singh said the Ministry would wait and watch the situation till next month, before assessing the kharif output.

Paddy acreage was lower by about 57.10 lakh hectares on account of deficient rains mainly in U.P., Bihar and Jharkhand. Groundnut sowing was lower by 11.28 lakh hectares, while that of sugarcane and coarse cereals fell by 1.29 lakh hectares and 1.17 lakh hectares. But the area under cotton was higher by 10.81 lakh hectares, while that under pulses increased by 5.99 lakh hectares.

Speaking to The Hindu, Chairman of the Central Water Commission A.K. Bajaj said the level in the reservoirs, which was at 36 per cent of the total capacity last week, rose to 38 per cent. Still, it was short of the last 10 years average of 45 per cent.

More In: National | News