Eleven West Bengal districts were declared “drought-affected” after a high-level meeting chaired by Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee here on Monday. The State had faced a similar situation 15 years ago.

Briefing reporters after the meeting, Finance Minister Asim Dasgupta said that these districts had already suffered an average rainfall deficit of 30 per cent and the district administration would make the formal announcement soon. He, however, said no “supply shortage” of staples like rice would be allowed as the State has a buffer stock and will step up procurement.

He said while agricultural activity on 11 lakh hectares in these districts had now become uncertain, efforts were being made to protect at least 6 lakh hectares of crop through various measures.

The affected districts are Burdwan, Hooghly, North and South 24 Parganas, Paschim Medinipur, Bankura, Birbhum and Purulia, Nadia, Murshidabad and Malda. Of these, Burdwan is considered the rice-bowl of the State which produces 150 million tonnes of rice annually and exports to other States.

Mr. Bhattacharjee will write to Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar urging him to send a Central team to assess the situation here, Dr. Dasgupta said.

He said that the State Government would allocate Rs.50 crore to help farmers find alternative means of watering their land by repairing deep tube-wells and digging new ones. Emphasis is also being laid on creation of alternative income-generation activities and grant of ‘gratuitous relief' to mitigate the suffering of small farmers.

The meeting was also attended by Agriculture Minister Naren Dey and Agriculture Marketing Minister Mortaza Hossain.

Following the declaration, the farmers would get relief on their farm loans whose term would now get extended.

They would also be given free seeds and a subsidy for running diesel pump sets to irrigate their land.