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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Monsoon situation pretty grim: Pranab Mukherjee

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said that the monsoon situation in the country is difficult and that 246 districts have been badly affected by drought. He was addressing a gathering of state agriculture ministers in New Delhi. Mukherjee also said that the country needs a contingency plan to tackle the deficient rains. The Government has 5 million tons of strategic food reserves, the Finance Minister told state agriculture ministers. This includes 3 million tons of wheat and 2 million tons of rice, he said. The Government will announce imports as and when the need arises, Mukherjee said, adding that the Centre could import pulses and oilseeds.

Meanwhile, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said that the poor southwest monsoon this year has created a critical situation for rural livelihood, drinking water and crops. The Government expects early sowing of Rabi (winter) crops over a larger area this year to offset some of the crop loss during the Kharif (summer) crop season, Pawar said. The situation in the agriculture sector remains disturbing, he told the conference of state farm ministers.

Effective enforcement actions and other steps would be taken to ensure that the prices of commodities do not rise abnormally, Pawar said, adding that authorities need to help farmers plant alternative crops, and provide food, fodder, drinking water and employment to people. "At this critical stage we need to assess the current situation correctly," the Agriculture Minister said. Efficient use of irrigation and judicious use of ground water and reservoirs was necessary, he added.

The southwest monsoon revived in the week ended August 19, a top official at the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) was quoted as saying on Thursday. Showers were about 2% below average in the week ended Aug. 19 compared with 56% in the previous week, said S. Kaur, Director at the IMD in New Delhi. The deficit in the season that started on June 1 narrowed to 26% from 29%, she said.

Separately, the Government decided to assist the sugarcane growers with soft loans for seed, fertilizers and pesticides for the development of sugarcane. Loans would be given by the Department of Food and Public Distribution, from the Sugar Development Fund to the applicant sugar factories at an interest rate of 4% per annum.

The loans would be disbursed to the sugar factories by 31st December, who in turn, will pass on the loans, in cash or kind, to the cane growers in their area latest by 31st March 2010, at an interest rate not higher than 4 percent per annum. The sugar factories would be required to repay the loan along with interest thereof, in a total period of four years from the date of disbursement, in 4 equal annual installments.