New Delhi: The government is considering a fresh drought relief package that includes providing more days of employment under its flagship rural development initiative, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS).
The package was discussed on Monday by the cabinet committee on economic affairs, which includes finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, agriculture and food minister Sharad Pawar and home minister P. Chidambaram. The agenda included the falling water table in the breadbasket states of Punjab and Haryana, increasing the number of man-days under NREGS—which promises 100 days’ employment a year to at least one member of every rural household—increasing the number of tube wells in the country and monitoring water reservoirs.
“So far the problem of agricultural slowdown has only been the concern of the ministry of agriculture. Now there is an increased concern that the entire government (including all concerned ministries) should be involved,” said a government official, who did not want to be named.
Mint could not immediately ascertain the outcome of the meeting.
The agenda for the meeting also suggested that the government may raise the prescribed minimum guaranteed employment of 100 days under the NREGS for drought-affected areas. The Central Water Commission, which has been monitoring the water level in 12 major reservoirs, has observed a shortage in nine of them.
The official added that the water table in Punjab and Haryana had been severely depleted and measures to help the two states tackle the problem are under discussion.
One proposal is to modify the National Calamity Contingency Fund (NCCF), constituted by the Union government to help the states deal with situations such as cyclones, floods, droughts and earthquakes.
Under discussion is a plan to relax the requirements of the calamity relief fund, or CRF, set up in each state, with the Centre contributing 75% and the state government 25%. The NCCF is extended by the Centre when expenditure by states is in excess of the balance available in their own CRF.
The agenda note also suggests that the government plans to dig 400,000 tube wells across India at a cost of Rs600 crore to solve the problem of drinking water.
According to the agenda note, rainfall has been deficient by 33% by 20 August, as estimated by the India Meteorological Department, with 23 meteorological divisions experiencing deficient rainfall.