Drought-hit Karnataka awaits more central aid

Bengaluru: Reeling under the worst drought in four decades, Karnataka awaits more central funds to continue relief work across the semi-arid state, a senior government official said on Monday. Though Karnataka informed the home ministry that crops valued at Rs.15,635 crore were lost due to harsh weather conditions and sought Rs.3,830-crore compensation, only Rs.1,540 crore was given from the National Disaster Response Fund to the affected, including 32 lakh farmers. The crop loss was 33 percent on about 30 lakh hectares of land. "We are awaiting an additional Rs.723 crore grant a central committee approved in response to our second memo, detailing loss of crops worth Rs.6,733 crore on 22.33 lakh hectares and seeking financial aid of Rs.1,417 crore, the officer told IANS here on the condition of anonymity. "We are hoping for early release of additional funds from the Centre to continue and step up relief work in 27 drought-hit districts till the south-west monsoon sets in next month," he said. Seeking additional grants of Rs.12,272-crore at a special meeting in New Delhi on Saturday, Chief Minister Siddaramaiah told Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the southern state was facing one of the worst droughts in the last 44 years due to a deficit monsoon for the second consecutive year in 2015. "Though rains were normal last June and July, they were deficit in August and September across southern, central and coastal areas of Karnataka and scanty in eight northern districts of the Karnataka-Hyderabad region," the official recalled. Prior to the chief minister's meeting with Modi, the state government had apprised a visiting central team of the grim situation in 137 talukas in the affected districts, resulting in a sharp fall in food production in kharif and rabi crop seasons. "A short winter season and lack of pre-monsoon showers forced us to declare an additional 61 talukas drought-hit in April, as even growing vegetables, fruit and flowers became difficult due to depleting groundwater sources, the official said. According to state agriculture minister Byre Gowda, food grain production in Karnataka was 110 million tonne against the 135-million tonne target in the 2015-16 fiscal and 126 million tonne harvest in 2014-15. "Acute drought in central and northern districts, where pulses are grown, has led to 3.5 lakh tonne shortfall, as the crop in both seasons yielded 12.5 lakh tonne against a target of 16 lakh tonne in 2015-16," Gowda told reporters here on Sunday. Cereals and pulses like tur, red gram, green gram, black gram and horse gram are prime crops in the eight northern districts of Bidar, Kalburgi, Raichur, Yadgir, Ballari, Koppal and Vijayapura. "Deficit rains for the second consecutive year in the catchment areas also led to depleted water levels in 13 major reservoirs. As a result, the combined water storage in the reservoirs on May 5 was around 18 percent of their total capacity," the official pointed out. With summer setting in early and being more severe this year, the irrigation department has shut canals to ensure supply of drinking water for the people and livestock in cities and towns across the state till rains come in early June.