BJP, govt clash in LS over Karnataka drought

New Delhi: BJP and the government today fought in the Lok Sabha over compensation to drought-hit Karnataka despite assurances that the Centre would be working out a package for the state at the earliest.

Minister of State for Agriculture Harish Rawat said that as per long-term measures to meet the drought situation in the country, the government had prepared a contingency plan for 180 districts, including those in Karnataka.

BJP member Ananth Kumar raised the issue of drought through a calling attention motion, alleging that the Centre was delaying compensation to the BJP-ruled state where farmers were in a bad shape.

Utilising the issue, BJP members accused the Centre of deliberately ignoring Karnataka while coming out with packages for Vidarbha and Bundelkhand.

This was contested by Congress members including Ministers Sushilkumar Shinde and Veerappa Moily while Rawat rejected the allegation and accused BJP of giving it a political hue. He said a central team had undertaken a visit to the state from May 13 to 16, the second such tour since December, 2010, to assess the situation and its report was awaited.

As soon as the report is available, the government will try to complete the work fast, he said, referring to the demand for compensation.

But, BJP members were not satisfied by this. "We had expected concrete assurance in terms of funds and foodgrains. When foodgrains are rotting, they can`t give it to affected states," Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj said, as she led a walkout by BJP and JD(U) members protesting the discrimination.

Rawat said, "It is sad they are giving political overtone to it. I knew they would walkout and try to give political overtone when I am responding to them with honesty."

Rawat said 180 districts had been identified for a contingency plan which covers Karnataka also and added that there was a wide-spread demand for relaxing the norms for giving relief under National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF). "But we are unable to tamper with this as it has been recommended by the 13th Finance Commission. These norms would remain effective till 2015," he said.

Earlier, BJP members demanded that the Centre immediately release Rs 1,500 crore to Karnataka, besides three lakh tonnes of rice and 57,200 tonnes of wheat, as an interim measure. Rawat said a central team, which visited the drought-hit areas of Karnataka, had recommended the grant of Rs 296.58 crore, following which the Centre approved Rs 186.68 crore.

Of this, Rs 70.23 crore was released and Rs 116.45 crore adjusted from the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) balance, he said.