The empowered group of minister (EGoM) on drought is working on a relief package for Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana, which have been severely hit by the deficient rainfall this year. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, also the EGoM’s chairman, in an interview with Sanjay Jog, talks about the ground conditions in these states and the slew of measures to be announced soon. Edited excerpts:
How is the rainfall situation across the country, especially in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana?
According to the latest report by the meteorological department, rainfall in August and September would not be substantial. The rainfall is 36 per cent deficient in northwest India, 15 per cent deficient in central India, 24 per cent deficient in south India, including Maharashtra, and 20 per cent deficient in the Northeast. Water level in dams is 45 per cent below normal in Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh, 44 per cent deficient in Maharashtra, 51 per cent deficient in Andhra Pradesh, 41 per cent deficient in Rajasthan and 22 per cent below normal in Odisha. However, despite the inadequate rainfall in Punjab and Haryana, the underground water level in these states is quite high, which is a positive sign.
What conclusions did you draw from your visit to Maharashtra, Karnataka and Gujarat?
Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh and I visited these states in the last three days. These states have received low rainfall, and have worked out both short-term and long-term plans to tackle the situation. Gujarat has spent about Rs 3,000 crore in the last five years to develop farm ponds and micro irrigation. Maharashtra, too, has implemented such initiatives. The EGoM would consider the relief measures immediately required. So, these states have been asked to get back to us with a revised memorandum of long-term measures, including the financial assistance required for completing long-pending irrigation projects. This would be done at the national level.
The EGoM’s priority is to consider financial assistance for drinking water, sufficient fodder and employment generation, especially through the effective implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS).
When would the EGoM announce a relief package for these states? What would be the size of the package?
The EGoM would visit Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana during the next three days. It would meet on August 8 to finalise a slew of measures. We have already announced the number of man-days under MGNREGS would be increased. In Maharashtra, it would be increased from 100 to 150 days in notified talukas. The labour budget in these states would also be increased by 30 per cent, and the entire financial burden would be borne by the Union government. Currently, Maharashtra has a labour budget of Rs 1,400 crore, while Gujarat’s labour budget is Rs 1,000 crore. The 50 per cent diesel subsidy for Punjab and Haryana has already been announced. This would help in the functioning of agricultural pumps to utilise underground water. The Union government has also announced additional allocation of power to Punjab and Haryana.
As far as fodder is concerned, state governments have been asked to promote fodder development by farmers on the condition of 50 per cent buy-back.