Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on Friday asked States to take immediate steps to provide relief to the drought affected, especially small and marginal farmers.

Mr. Pawar described the situation in 246 districts in 10 States as “grim”, and said agriculture departments in the States must gear up their machinery to ensure that farmers are fully supported at this critical time.

Mr. Pawar also said rabi crops can be planted early and over a large area to make for the kharif losses due to a poor and erratic monsoon.

“This is good opportunity to ensure that wheat is sown in time particularly in eastern Uttar Pradesh Bihar and West Bengal,” Mr. Pawar said addressing State agriculture ministers here.

Pointing out that there is likely to be a 15 per cent shortfall in paddy sowing, Mr. Pawar said there is an urgent need to promote alternate crops like pulses, sunflower, bajra, fodder and vegetables.

“We need to mitigate the effect of the drought by taking immediate steps to protect the standing crop and plan meticulously for the ensuing rabi season to compensate for the loss of production in this season,” Mr. Pawar said.

He said the situation is grim not just for crop sowing and crop health but also for sustaining the animal health, livelihood, particularly for small and marginal farmers and landless labourers.

Mr. Pawar asked States to set up control rooms at the State capital and district level to deal with drought situation.

“For the drought-affected population we should ensure availability of food, drinking water, fodder and employment. I am sure with your cooperation we would be able to tide over this crisis and regain the momentum of food grain production in the country.”

Ten States have declared 246 districts as drought affected. Some States have reported more than 60 per cent less rains in this monsoon season.

Mr. Pawar also said the rise in prices of sugar, which is a result of falling production, need to be checked.