PM asks states to act on poor rains

PM asks states to act on poor rains

New Delhi: The Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked state governments on Saturday to take first steps to deal with poor monsoon rains that have hit sowing of important crops, leading to a sharp rise in prices of food items like sugar.

Monsoon rains in India, where only 40% farmland is irrigated, were 25% below normal since the start of the season in June and 64% below normal in the week to 5 August.

Forecasts of scanty rains in the next five days and low water levels in reservoirs have stoked concerns of a sharp fall in sugarcane and soybean output, and a larger economic fallout for Asia’s third biggest economy.

“Agricultural operations have been adversely affected in several parts of the country, causing distress to farmers and their families," Singh said.

“I would urge that wherever there is need, the states should immediately commence relief operations. The states may also monitor the availability of seeds, fodder and cattle health requirements."

The central government usually asks the state governments to ensure farmers get seeds in the event that they have to replant important crops.

Farm minister Sharad Pawar last month said India had enough grain stocks for 13 months and his government might free some wheat for open market sale.

“We should not hesitate to take strong measures and intervene in the market if the need were to arise," Singh added.

The Prime Minister said output of winter-sown crops must be raised to compensate for the loss of this season.

“While the current food stock position is comfortable, we need to ensure that this position continues in the next year as well," Singh told senior government officials who have gathered here to study the impact of patchy rains.

India, the world’s biggest consumer of sugar and the second-biggest importer of vegetable oils, is buying the commodities in large quantities to overcome shortages.

Singh said prices of sugar, lentils and some vegetables have shot up and the federal and state governments would have to work together to enforce limit on stocks that can be held by traders.