Drought has affected nearly a quarter of the country’s population and has left an impact on over 1.5 lakh villages, the government said in the Lok Sabha as it sought “national consensus” on the contentious issues like the inter-linking of rivers. The House saw a discussion on the drought, water-scarcity and inter-linking of rivers, with members voicing concern over the worsening situation and demanding waiver of loans of farmers. The members also emphasised the need for working on war-footing to ensure that people do not suffer for want of drinking water. Replying to the debate amid din and repeated disruptions by Congress members, Rural Development Minister Birender Singh said 313 districts, 1,58,205 villages and 4,44,280 dwellings in the country have been hit by drought. In an attempt to dispel the notion that the government was doing nothing to deal with drought, he said Rs 1360 crore had been allocated to states like Andhra pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka well before the drought. “There is no lack of funds. On vote of account we have already given Rs 564 crore (rpt) crore to drought-affected states. As per the sharing pattern, the state has to contribute 50 percent to the share. We have sent Rs 1900 crore to the states. “This means the states have Rs 3800 crore to deal with the situation. Of this, 10 percent could be used for anything which relates to combating of drought and 15 percent is for operation and maintainance,” the minister said. Listing out the steps undertaken to deal with drought, Singh said over 9.33 lakh hand pumps have either been restored or repaired, 14,80,000 riser pipes were either replaced or extended, and 27,728 new borewells were commissioned. The minister said the government has also increased funding under the MNREGS. He said the people had lost faith in the scheme due to the UPA regime, but the NDA-government has “restored” it. “We have increased the MNREGA funds from 37,000 crore to Rs 45,000 crore,” he said, adding that the mandays have been increased to 252 days by the NDA dispensation. He also emphasisised on having a national consensus to deal with the issue of drought. “There needs to be a national consensus to deal with the problem of drought….on inter-linking of rivers,” he said. The House saw verbal duels between the Congress members and the Minister. Singh, who was in Congress before the last Lok Sabha polls, hit out at his erstwhile party colleagues, saying he knows everything about the party and should not be compelled to “open my mouth”.