Opposition demands government to step up drought relief measures

Agriculture minister assured that the government has sanctioned money to drought-hit states; said government had been monitoring the situation

Pretika Khanna, Nikita Mehta
Updated27 Apr 2016
Water storage level in the week ended 21 April was 22% of total capacity of India&#8217;s reservoirs. Photo: AFP<br />
Water storage level in the week ended 21 April was 22% of total capacity of India&#8217;s reservoirs. Photo: AFP

New Delhi: With the country reeling under drought and mounting heat-related deaths, opposition parties on Wednesday demanded that the government take immediate relief measures on a war footing and a convene a meeting of all chief ministers to address a “national crisis”.

More than 200 suspected heat-related deaths have been reported in Odisha and Telangana alone, two of the worst hit states.

Leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress party said, “The minister should lay out their short, medium and long term programmes since the monsoon is still two months away. Shouldn’t the Prime Minister call for a meeting with Chief Ministers and shouldn’t this be treated like a national crisis. This is a national crisis and the opposition will stand with you. The government needs to wake up or the situation will turn very grim in the country.”

Initiating the debate in the upper house, Sharad Pawar, president, Nationalist Congress Party said, “It is true that the situation in Latur is serious as is being talked about, but there are several other states that have declared droughts in the country and they need attention.” The former agriculture minister highlighted that more than 200 water management projects in five states were lagging behind and the government needed to focus on these.

Last year, 11 states declared a drought after the monsoon-dependent kharif crop was hit by deficit rainfall. The centre provided assistance of over 12,000 crore for these drought-hit states, against 38,000 crore sought by them.

Agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh replying to the debate assured the House that the central government has sanctioned money to drought-hit states. He also said that the central government had been monitoring the situation.

Union minister for water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation Uma Bharti told the House, “We are well aware that more than 30 crore population of the country is facing a crisis of drought, water shortage and heat wave. Our government has decided to ensure that such a situation doesn’t arise again. We will fulfil this mission.”

“The truth is that while Latur is facing a water crisis, there was a flood in Assam. Atalji’s vision for river linking was to tackle the balance between drought and floods,” she added, in a reference to former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Water storage level in the week ended 21 April was 22% of total capacity of India’s reservoirs. At the same time last year, reservoirs were 65% full. The average over the last 10 years has been 76%.

Stressing the need to plan for such crisis, Communist Party of India (CPI) leader D. Raja said, “The drought situation has shown how vulnerable our country is to climate change. We need long term and short term ideas and plans. The attitude should not be wait and watch for monsoon. That would be disastrous for rural population. The ministry of agriculture, water resources has ignored the consequences of rural disasters.”

The government on Tuesday said that as of March, 87 people had died due to heat waves. But the death toll has risen in April as heat waves have occurred with higher frequency. According to government officials, as of Wednesday, in Telangana, 106 people have died because of the heat.

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