With the country facing a 20 per cent deficient monsoon, the Union government on Tuesday announced a financial assistance of more than Rs. 1,900 crore under various schemes for the affected States. It also extended a diesel subsidy of 50 per cent to farmers to save the standing crops through groundwater irrigation.

Subsidy on seeds will be raised and farmers who are forced to sow again will be given compensation. To enhance the supply of animal feed, the import duty on oil meal cakes will be waived.

The decisions were taken at a meeting of the Empowered Group of Ministers (EGoM) on Drought. The meeting, chaired by Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, lasted two hours.

Announcing the decisions, Mr. Pawar said the subsidy on diesel would be shared equally by the Centre and the States. This would be applicable from the date of notification till September-end.

Parts of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana are facing water stress. The overall kharif sowing is lower by 56.03 lakh hectares compared to the normal area, with a shortfall in the cultivation of rice, coarse cereals and pulses largely in Karnataka, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Maharashtra is facing drinking water problem too.

Mr. Pawar said the EGoM approved the release of Rs. 1,440 crore to Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Gujarat under the integrated watershed programme

An interim assistance of Rs. 38 crore for supply of drinking water would be given to Karnataka (Rs. 12 crore), Maharashtra (Rs. 15 crore) and Rajasthan (Rs. 11 crore).

Drinking water scheme

Another Rs. 453 crore would be given to Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Haryana under the National Rural Drinking Water Programme.

A sum of Rs. 50 crore was set aside for the buy-back arrangement with the States that upscale fodder production.

Of the 627 districts, 306 had received deficient rainfall and 94 got scanty showers. More districts were under stress this year than those in 2009 when there were no rains in June. Contingency plans had been prepared for 320 districts.

Mr. Pawar said there would be a “setback” to kharif production “but unless the crop comes to farmers’ home, nobody can predict what will be the situation.” Sowing would continue till August second week.

On whether there was drought or not in the country, Mr. Pawar said the States had to declare drought in the worst-affected areas. So far, Karnataka and Maharashtra had reported drought in “pockets.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Pawar, accompanied by Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, will go on a three-day tour to Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat and Rajasthan “to understand their requirements” in facing drought.

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