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Centre pledges more funds for drought-hit States

NEW DELHI JULY 26. The Centre today pledged additional funds for relief to the States hit by calamities but rejected the Opposition demand in the Lok Sabha to centralise the management of drought and flood in the country, saying it was the responsibility of the States.

"We cannot take away the rights of the States and monitor what they are doing. What we can do is involve elected members of Parliament and MLAs to monitor how well the States spend the Central assistance for drought and flood relief,'' the Union Minister for Agriculture, Ajit Singh, said in reply to a two-day debate in the Lok Sabha on drought and floods.

He said eight eastern States were reeling under floods, while the rest of the country was suffering from "an alarming situation'' of the most widespread drought in 11 years due to delayed monsoon in northwest and central India. Consumers would not suffer as there were enough foodstocks, but farmers and farm labour, who lose their crop, will. The Government has taken a decision to postpone farm loan recovery in the affected States, he added.

The Centre will release funds from the National Calamities Contingency Fund (NCCF) to needy States who exhaust their annual share under the Calamity Relief Fund (CRF).

Mr. Singh said he had written to the Union Finance Minister, Jaswant Singh, today to be ready to immediately release the second instalment of the CRF to States who complete administrative procedures such as giving utilisation certificate for the first instalment released before May. Normally, the second instalment is released in November.

(Intervening in the discussion to deny the Opposition charge of discrimination, the Minister of State for Home, I.D. Swami, said a high-powered committee for disaster management had been formed under the Deputy Prime Minister, L.K. Advani, to decide on disbursal of funds for relief from the NCCF.

The Ministers for Agriculture and Finance and the Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission are the members. The committee will be assisted by an inter-ministerial group chaired by the Agriculture Secretary. The group is guided by the recommendations of Central teams which conduct spot assessment of damage in the States.

Mr. Swami said the 11th Finance Commission had set aside Rs. 11,000 crores for calamity relief through CRF and NCCF. The CRF is shared in the ratio of 75:25 per cent between the Centre and the States.

This year, about 10 States have so far not given utilisation certificate of the first instalment from CRF. He said the NCCF is managed by the high-powered committee as it is a corpus made from cess collected from tax payers.)

Mr. Singh said that although bajra, oilseeds and some pulses had been hit by the prolonged dry spell, rainfall in the affected regions in the next 8 to 10 days might salvage the situation.

States would have to do their own surveys and declare districts as drought affected. Preliminary assessment showed western Uttar Pradesh, Bundelkhand, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Orissa as most hit. There was some dry spell in parts of Gujarat, Bihar Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Kerala but it had not affected agriculture.

Besides other reliefs, the Centre would consider bearing 25 per cent of the cash component to be borne by States under the food-for-work programme.

The programme has 50 per cent cash component split equally between the Centre and the States and 50 per cent foodgrains for providing work to farm labour and small farmers who may lose their crop.

Mr. Singh assured members that the Government would consider waiving at least one instalment of interest on debt, besides other relief measures such as asking NABARD and cooperatives to postpone loan recovery. States should do likewise with cooperatives, he said.

Earlier, intervening in the discussion, the Union Water resources Minister said the Centre was all for linking rivers and distribution of surplus waters to deficit States provided the States were agreeable and cooperative.

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