Montek says monsoon situation is better, PM still worried

Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia on Tuesday said the monsoon situation is improving in most parts of the country, but the government is concerned about the delay in its onset.

"The monsoon has now become much better in most parts of the country, but still not in the north-west of the country. It is a matter of continuing concern for us," Ahluwalia told reporters on the sidelines of a CII conference in New Delhi. He expressed the hope that there would be a recovery in the "base" of the monsoon in July.

Asked whether the agriculture ministry has prepared a contingency plan to face the situation, he said, "I am certain that the ministry is looking at the issue."

Even as India re-imposed a ban on wheat exports on Monday, the ever-positive agriculture minister Sharad Pawar said, "Based on the briefing that the India Meteorological Department gave this morning, the entire week will be a good week. If this prediction is correct, then I can definitely say we are out of trouble."

He was speaking to the media after a meeting at which prime minister Manmohan Singh reviewed the crop and rainfall situation with senior ministers and officials. It was decided at the meeting to set up an empowered group of ministers headed by the ubiquitous finance minister Pranab Mukherjee to ensure food security, and to chalk out 'Plan B' if the situation does not improve.

At the same time, the government cancelled licences for limited export of wheat just 10 days after these were issued. On Monday, the director-general of foreign trade said the government has decided to "rescind with immediate effect" its 3 July order that allowed state-run trading firms MMTC and STC to export 300,000 tonnes each.
In any case, these firms had not reported any shipment and export contracts are unlikely as international prices are ruling well below the levels in India.