New Delhi: The government on Friday said 207 districts in nine states have been hit by drought, and contingency steps had been taken to ensure there was no marked reduction in sowing area.
Replying to a marathon debate in the Lok Sabha in which 33 members spoke and 41 gave their views in writing, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh said all farmers in the country would get soil health cards by 2017.
The debate was initiated by Congress member Jyotiraditya Scindia last week but Congress members were not present in the house during the minister's reply as they walked out earlier to demand an apology from a BJP member over his "objectionable" remarks against their party leaders.
Scindia had said 190 lakh hectare of land had been affected due to drought and the affected states had sought relief of over Rs.25,000 crore from the central government.
The minister said Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand had been impacted by drought due to less rain in the 2015 Kharif season.
"According to the memoranda received, 207 districts in nine states have been declared drought-hit," he said.
The minister refuted allegations by Scindia about differences in the government's words and deeds and highlighted the steps taken over the past 18 months for farmers.
Responding to the concerns of members, Singh said central teams had sent its recommendations to a high-powered committee to provide assistance to the affected states.
The minister said 302 districts in the country had received 20 percent less rain but that did not mean all were drought affected.
Radha Mohan Singh said it was wrong to assume that a state facing adverse conditions such as drought got money only after the recommendations of an expert committee sent by New Delhi.
"There is SDRF (State Disaster Response Fund) in which 75 percent contribution is from the central government."
The minister said the Modi government had faced three seasons with natural adversities - a drought during the last Kharif season (rainfall deficiency of 12 percent), losses due to hailstorm and another drought in Kharif season this year.
The sown area for the rabi season was 442 lakh hectare compared to 446 lakh hectare last year.
"We did not allow drought to have too much impact. We have given contingency plans to states."
Referring to wheat, he said the sown area was 16 percent less compared to last year but there were still 15 days of sowing left.
He said pulses had been sown on 114 lakh hectare compared to 115 lakh hectare last year. This was achieved as half the money under the national mission was given to farmers who only grew pulses.
Taking a dig at the previous UPA government over the crop insurance scheme, he said he was unable to understand "if it was working for the benefit of farmers or the companies" and added that the Modi government would remove its shortcomings.
Referring to concerns over the minimum support price for crops, he said he would form a committee to review the national policy on farmers.
The minister claimed that farmers have been caught in a web due to the policies pursued over the last six decades and noted that suicides by any farmer was a matter of concern.
Referring to the impact of climate change on agriculture, he said soil health card was one of the ways to meet the challenge.
Singh said 300 agriculture markets would be linked by April.