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Drought looms large, but don’t panic: Mukherjee
New Delhi, Aug 11 (IANS):
Published on 12 Aug. 2009 12:29 AM IST
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The spectre of drought looms large over as many as 161 out of 626 districts in India due to deficient monsoon, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said here Tuesday, but asked citizens not to panic. "One hundred and sixty one districts have been declared drought-prone. As far as sowing is concerned, 20 percent would be down," Mukherjee told reporters on the margins of an annual conference with officials of the income tax administration. "Monsoon situation is still erratic," he warned, but added: "But there is no point of pressing the panic button. You all will go and start chanting drought, drought, drought and it will have an adverse impact." Mukherjee said Punjab and Haryana - two most important states for food output - were fortunate since they use groundwater extensively, even as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were facing shortage of water. Nearly 60 percent of India's farm sector is dependent on monsoon rains between June and September, but this year has witnessed one of the driest spells in eight decades, as per the Indian Meteorological Department. The met department said the average monsoon rainfall has been deficient by 25 percent in the country for the monsoon period June 1 to Aug 5. The shortfall has been far higher in traditional breadbasket states like Punjab and Haryana. "We have a contingency plan," said the finance minister, indicating measures such as allowing import of food grain, continuing with the ban on exports and asking state-run agencies to buy more stocks from the open market. The deficient rains have already resulted in prices of essential commodities go through the roof, with tur dal, a lentil native to India and part of the staple diet, costing over Rs.100 a kilogram in several states. Finance Secretary Ashok Chawla, who was a part of the review meeting, said a decision will be taken on the measures to be adopted due to monsoon failure after obtaining the assessment reports from various states. "We will also find adequate resources to tackle the drought," he added. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has already warned that the reduced production of kharif crops, sowing for which coincides with the monsoon, may have an inflationary impact on prices of food items in the coming months. He, accordingly, urged the states Monday to work together with the central government and activate the public distribution system. “The contingency plan for crops, drinking water, human and animal health, fodder should be brought into operation without delay and a close watch kept on availability of food grain and prices of essential commodities.”

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