The Union government today announced contingency measures, including the rollout of alternative crops and additional power for irrigation, in response to the persistently poor monsoon rainfall.
The crop area sown this year is about 8 million hectares lower than last year but agrometeorology experts say the cumulative area sown with rice can be determined only around early August.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has directed various ministries to co-ordinate their efforts with state governments and monitor the rainfall situation on a weekly basis, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement.
Coarse cereals, pulses and fodder crops are among alternative crops that farmers will be encouraged to sow in areas that continue to remain under severe water stress as the season progresses.
The contingency plans seek to overcome the 70 per cent rain deficit in India’s northwestern grain-baskets of western Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab through additional power to support irrigation.
The petroleum ministry has been asked to ensure diesel is available for irrigation. “Power for agricultural purposes will be ensured so that yield of rice is not adversely affected,” the PMO said.
The cumulative rainfall deficit across India is 22 per cent. Meteorologists have said the intensity and spread of rains over the next eight days are likely to determine whether India can pull back from the edge of drought.
The 84 major reservoirs in India are now filling up but the storage level this year is only 61 per cent of last year's storage and 78 per cent of the average storage over the past 10 years.
The water resources ministry has indicated that there is no real cause for concern as the reservoirs are now getting filled through heavy rains in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Northeast and parts of southern India.
The PMO said the states have been asked to phase out the release of reservoir water for irrigation in a manner that will support future requests should the rainfall continue to remain below average.
The ministry of consumer affairs, food and public distribution is preparing a proposal to increase subsidy for supply of pulses through the public distribution system to poor families. This will be placed before the cabinet committee on economic affairs.
“Farmers who are unable to sow rice will be asked to grow short-duration pulses,” a senior agrometeorology expert with the India Meteorological Department in New Delhi said. “The overall area sown with rice is lower than what it was last year.”
A fresh spell of active monsoon with rains in eastern and central India is expected during the last week of July, a senior IMD scientist said.