Bengaluru (Karnataka): Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah on Wednesday wrote a letter to Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar highlighting the urgent need for financial assistance from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) to address the severe drought conditions in the state.
The Chief Minister outlined the grim situation, citing a -56 per cent deficit in rainfall during June, the lowest in 122 years. The delayed onset of the South West Monsoon and subsequent heavy rains in July disrupted agricultural activities, leading to a 73 per cent deficit in crucial August rainfall.
The State has witnessed above-normal temperatures associated with large deficit rainfall during August and this has severely affected the standing crops in large parts of rain-fed areas. During September, interior parts of the state which comprises the major Kharif area witnessed deficit rainfall which resulted in soil moisture stress during the maturity stage of the crops. Moreover, the drought conditions have further deteriorated during October.
After adhering to all norms and procedures delineated in the Drought Manual 2020, Karnataka has declared drought in 223 taluks out of 236 taluks out of which 196 taluks are categorized as severely drought affected.
The State Government on September 22, 2023, submitted the Kharif Drought Memorandum seeking funds from NDRF for undertaking drought relief and mitigation measures in the 195 drought-affected taluks.
“Consequently, a 10-member Inter-Ministerial Central Team (IMCT) visited some of the drought-affected areas of Karnataka from October 5 to 9 to assess the gravity of the drought situation in the State. Given the deteriorating drought conditions, a re-evaluation of seasonal conditions was conducted for the entire South West Monsoon 2023 and an additional 21 taluks were declared as drought affected,” the letter read.
A supplementary Memorandum seeking financial assistance from NDRF for an additional 21 drought-affected taluks was submitted to the Government of India on October 9, 2023.
Further, the South West Monsoon made its onset along the coast of Karnataka on June 10, 2023, marking a delay of five days from the usual onset of June 5. Likewise, the withdrawal of the Southwest Monsoon from Karnataka and the entire country occurred on October 19, 2023, deviating by four days from the typical withdrawal date of October 15. The delayed onset of the South West Monsoon has impacted the agricultural landscape of the state, affecting the optimal sowing window in certain taluks and leading to a delay in the sowing process. Hence, the drought condition was again revaluated at the end of October and an additional 7 taluks were declared as drought-affected for the Kharif 2023 season. The State Government has submitted an Additional Memorandum seeking financial assistance for these 07 drought-affected Taluks too.
Totally for Kharif 2023, the agriculture and horticulture crop loss have been reported in more than 48 lakh hectares with the estimated loss (cost of cultivation) of Rs 35162.05 crore. The State Government has sought Rs 18171.44 crore from NDRF for undertaking drought relief measures in the State.
The Cabinet Sub Committee on Natural Disaster Management, under the Chairpersonship of the Revenue Minister, Government of Karnataka, has actively sought appointments with your office on multiple occasions to apprise the prevailing drought situation in the State, which unfortunately has not materialized.
However, the Cabinet Sub Committee Chairperson and members apprised the Secretary, Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare on the dire drought situation in the State on 25-10-2023. During the said meeting they also expressed concerns at the reliance on the 8-year-old Agriculture Census data of 2015 for computing input subsidy under NDRF for crop loss.
The Chief Minister emphasized the impact on small and marginal farmers, urging a reevaluation of input subsidy criteria based on the FRUITS database.
“Emphasising the inherent risk of substantial losses in terms of input subsidies from the NDRF to the State, particularly affecting our Small and Marginal Farmers(SMF), it is crucial to reevaluate this reliance on old Census data. I earnestly request you to consider SMF percentage and farmer numbers as in the FRUITS (Farmer Registration and Unified Beneficiary Information System) database maintained by the state, which consists of unique farmers information including land holding, and is linked to the rural land records Bhoomi database. As per FRUITS database in these 31 districts, there are around 52.73 lakh farmers who have a land holding of less than 2 ha. The Small and Marginal farmers are most impacted to drought and most of them rely on agriculture for their livelihoods and input subsidy is the only available recourse to them to resume agricultural activities,” he said.
Seeking Rs 12,577.9 crore for Gratuitous Relief, the Chief Minister highlighted the dire need to support small and marginal farmers whose livelihoods depend on agriculture.
“The State Government is seeking Rs 12577.9 crore to facilitate payment of Gratuitous Relief towards subsistence of the Small and Marginal Farmers whose lives and families’ lives are completely dependent on agricultural activities for their immediate sustenance. The prevailing drought condition across the State has severely disrupted agriculture, leading to crop failures and economic distress for rural households. Hence, there is a dire need to provide Gratuitous Relief (GR) as set out in No. 1 (e) of the SDRF/NDRF items and norms to alleviate the impact on drought-affected families and support them in sustaining their livelihoods. The existing 50 per cent cap for GR within the Response and Recovery Window of SDRF for a state like Karnataka which has a small annual SDRF allocation, has constrained the State Government on providing GR to the families of the affected families. Consequently, funds for GR have been sought under NDRF,” the letter read.
In addressing discrepancies between the Drought Manual and SDRF/NDRF norms, the Chief Minister called for harmonization, advocating for input subsidies for taluks reporting over 33 per cent crop loss.
“There is a need to harmonize the input subsidy qualifying criteria between the provisions in the Manual for Drought Management-2020 and prevailing items and norms of assistance under SDRF/NDRF of MHA. The Manual for Drought Management 2020, states that more than 50 per cent of crop loss is ‘severe,’ and eligible for input subsidy but the items and norms of assistance from SDRF/NDRF issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs states that crop losses exceeding 33 per cent due to a notified disaster are eligible for the payment of input subsidies. Since the 27 moderate category taluks have after Ground Truthing conducted as per the Drought Manual 2020 reported more than 33 per cent crop loss they should also should also be considered for input subsidy claims under NDRF,” it added.
Anticipating a deterioration in drinking water availability, the Chief Minister emphasized the need for swift NDRF assistance.
It is anticipated that the drinking water situation is likely to deteriorate in the coming months, primarily due to the fact that major reservoirs in the States are currently at only 53 per cent of their total capacity following the primary rainfall season. This decline in storage levels in our hydel reservoirs has adversely impacted our hydel power generation, which accounts for 20 per cent of the state’s energy requirement, it read.
Despite proactive state measures, including the release of Rs 324 crore from the State Disaster Response Fund, the Chief Minister stressed the crucial role of NDRF funds in providing timely relief.
“The State Government has taken proactive and collaborative measures to mitigate the drought’s impact. In October, Rs 324 crore from SDRF has been released to 31 districts to take up immediate drought relief measures. Weekly monitoring of seasonal conditions began with the onset of SWM with the Weather Watch Committee conducting regular meetings to review conditions. The Cabinet Sub-Committee on Natural Disaster convened six times to review the drought situation, implement necessary policies for mitigation. Personally, I have been actively engaged in reviewing the seasonal conditions, ensuring a hands-on approach to the situation. The State Government’s welfare schemes, especially those targeted towards women, have played a significant role in alleviating the impact of the drought to a certain extent, however with the NDRF assistance we hope to do more,” it further added.
The Chief Minister concluded by urging the National Executive Committee’s Sub-Committee to expedite recommendations for the early release of NDRF funds, ensuring prompt disbursement to distressed farmers.
He further stated, “I request you to ensure that the Sub-Committee of National Executive Committee submits its recommendations at the earliest. I shall be thankful if you could expedite the process and enable early release of funds from NDRF which would then facilitate timely disbursement of input subsidy and gratuitous relief to the distressed farmers.”
(With inputs from ANI)