As drought looms over parts of the northwest region owing to deficit monsoon rains, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday asked all Union government departments to closely monitor the situation and coordinate with the States to tackle any eventuality.

Admitting that the monsoon’s progress so far “has not allayed earlier concerns,” the PMO said in a statement that the situation in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan needed to be watched. It disclosed that Rs.4, 524 crore was available under the National Disaster Relief Fund, and an inter-ministerial group was reviewing the situation every week. Any additional requirement for wages would be met through the Rs.12, 000 crore available under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act.

As first reported in The Hindu this weekend, more States are facing drought conditions. The area planted with kharif crops has come down, according to the PMO, by 80 lakh hectares. While the area under rice may recover over time, the “area reduction in coarse cereals is likely to persist.”

Asserting that the Centre was geared to meet any situation, the PMO said the 22 per cent shortfall in the monsoon rain could be “misleading” since such factors as unevenness of distribution and periodicity of rainfall needed to be taken into account.

The storage in 84 major reservoirs, monitored by the Central Water Commission, was 61 per cent of what it was last year, but there was no cause for concern as dams were filling up with heavy rains pounding the foothills of the Himalayas, the northeast, and parts of southern India.

The PMO said contingency plans prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture would be rolled out in areas that continued to receive low rain. Seeds, including those of coarse cereals and pulses, were available in sufficient quantities. States that faced fodder shortage were asked to preserve crop residue.

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