India to tackle drought shortfalls with imports: minister

NEW DELHI, August 21, 2009 (AFP) – India will import lentils, edible oil and other staples to cope with any shortfalls caused by a widespread drought that has badly hurt crops, the finance minister said Friday. The statement by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee came as the country of nearly 1.2 billion people faces its weakest monsoon in at least seven years.

“We shall go for imports” of “whichever commodity will be in short supply,” Mukherjee told a state farm ministers’ meeting in the Indian capital.

He noted supplies of pulses and edible oil were already running short. India is the world’s largest consumer and importer of pulses.

But Mukherjee said India has enough grain stocks to tide it through for the moment.

“We are starting the drought year with good buffer stocks,” Mukherjee said.

“The government has the experience to deal with such situations and we need not lose confidence in ourselves,” he added.

The government would not announce the timing of any imports so as to avoid market prices being automatically jacked up, he said.

Consumers are already experiencing soaring food prices due to the weak rains.

Of India’s 626 districts, 246 have been decl