Rajya Sabha members on Wednesday expressed grave concern over the drought situation in 11 states and the resulting drinking water crisis during a short duration discussion. The Opposition blamed the government for releasing less than half the funds asked for by these states and failing to anticipate the seriousness of the situation.
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The members also asked the government to complete 312 irrigation projects that are pending for the past 25 years, and to formulate both an immediate plan and a long-term plan to tackle drought and provide water for drinking and agriculture. A separate ministry should be created to deal with droughts, floods and other natural calamities, some members demanded.
In his reply, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh placed the onus of addressing the situation on states, while insisting that the Centre was doing its bit to provide relief. “We should not fight between Centre and the state. The roles of the Centre and the state are different. It is clearly defined in the Rules. We can’t change it. The Centre’s role is to monitor and the state’s role is to provide assistance and help the affected people at the ground level,” Singh said. “The central government does its bit, but every state governments should also do their best.”
Expressing dissatisfaction with the minister’s reply, members of the Congress, JD(U), SP and BSP staged a walkout.
Insisting that farmers are a priority for the central government, Singh earlier said, “I don’t know if we are facing the consequences because of the previous government, but we know the prevailing situation and are taking adequate measures.”
“We come from different states. We are all concerned about farmers… We should also try to see what we can do in our own states to tide over the situation,” he said.
On steps taken by the Centre, Singh said the norms for providing relief had been eased and allocation for State Disaster Response Fund had been raised. He said the Met department had forecast above normal monsoon this year, and expressed hope that there would be better agriculture production in 2016-17.
In her reply, Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti said almost 30 crore people are facing drinking water shortage. The problem has aggravated due to consecutive droughts in the past two years, which brought down the water level in 91 reservoirs, she said.
According to data from the Central Water Commission, availability of water in 91 major reservoirs in the country is less by 11 million cubic metre at present, Bharti said. She stressed on interlinking of rivers while stating that Rs 80,000 crore would be spent on water resources.
She welcomed a demand from JD(U) member Sharad Yadav that the government remove the subject of water from the Concurrent List and place it in the Union List. “We discussed it in our ministry, but I did not form any committee on this as it is a sensitive issue. But now since Sharad Yadav has raised it, my ministry will start work on it,” she said.
Earlier, raising the issue of the pending irrigation projects, former agriculture minister and NCP chief Sharad Pawar said 240 of these 312 projects were in five states including Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. “Right now, 11 states are facing drought-like conditions. We must rise above political lines and face the situation together,” Pawar said. “In 2015-16, the states made their demand for relief package. Was it met?” Pawar asked. “The actual release was less than 50 per cent. I think there should be some improvement,” he said.