Monday, August 11, 2014

Hard days ahead

Shortfall in rainfall in some parts of the country might impact economy
Although the new government is relieved that monsoon situation was not as bad as initially predicted, shortfall in rain will have long-term impact on the agriculture and economy.

The worst impact of a sub-normal monsoon is likely to be in western India, with possible drought-like conditions in some areas, agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh said on Tuesday.
"Monsoon is delayed. Western India is expected to be worst affected and drought-like situation might prevail in some pockets," Singh told reporters after a delegation from Maharashtra met him on this matter.
A separate contingency plan will be worked out along with the state governments for drought-prone regions, such as Vidharbha in Maharashtra, to ensure there is no shortage of drinking water and fodder, he said.
"Vidharbha region is drought-prone. We will think of all possible measures to help farmers so that they are not forced to commit suicides due to crop failure," he added.
As per the met office, the monsoon is likely to improve after July 6, the minister said, adding, "If it improves, the loss in sowing of kharif crops will definitely be compensated."
He also said the agriculture ministry will soon move a Cabinet note on providing diesel and seed subsidy if states declare drought in some areas.
On vegetable prices rising in anticipation of a poor monsoon, Singh said, "We have to improve the supply system, though there is no shortage in onion and potato production in the country."
A delegation-led by Maharashtra BJP president Devendra Fadanvis updated the minister about the monsoon situation in the Vidharbha region and sought special measures to tackle the possible drought this year.
The overall area under kharif crops last week decreased to 131.52 lakh hectares from 200.96 lakh hectares in the year-ago period. Sowing of kharif (summer) crops including paddy starts with the onset of the southwest monsoon in June.
According to the India Meteorological Department, the monsoon this year is expected to be 93 per cent of the long-term average. For the country as a whole, the cumulative rainfall up to June 25 was 40 per cent below the average. Conditions are expected to improve in July and August.
The spectre of drought looms large over several parts of India this year as predictions of poor monsoon gain ground, raising fears of a fall in output of food crops and difficulties on water and power fronts even as the Centre coordinates with the states on tackling the situation.
Vast swathes of farm land covering several lakhs of hectares in states such as Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka have not seen any sowing this season as they brace for drought-like situation, according to reports compiled by PTI bureau across the country. Rains so far have been deficient in the country as a whole by 43 per cent, according to the Met department.
Officials across states are still chary of coming out with likely fall in production because they hope monsoon will stage a late revival and make up for shortage in sowing areas.
Already reports of deficient monsoon have led to a spike in prices of food articles, vegetables and fruits. The Centre has sought to play down the fears and is planning a slew of measures like diesel and seed subsidy for farmers if states declare drought.  On the other hand, it has also announced a series of measures such as amending the Essential Commodities Act to take deterrent steps against hoarding and black marketing. Faced with the challenge just immediately after taking over, the new government at the Centre, in co-ordination with states, has put in place a contingency plan that will target 500 major producing districts, preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.
"Monsoon has just started, it is a late start and it is too early to create any panic," Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said last week. Deficit rains have also impacted water storage level across the country besides sowing operations. Reservoirs in 12 states, including Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, have reported lower water levels now compared to the position at this time in the last year, according to Central Water Commission.
The Indian Meteorological Department has projected a below-normal monsoon at 93 per cent of the long period average. However, private weather forecaster Skymet has come out with a more serious picture.
There is a major possibility of the country facing drought this year, with the chances being as high as 80 per cent in north-west India, says Skymet.
Rainfall deficit so far is maximum in central India at 63 per cent, with severe shortfall in Gujarat region (91 per cent) followed by Marathwada (80 per cent), Saurashtra and Kutch (78 per cent) and western Madhya Pradesh (76 per cent), as per the IMD. The situation in many states is grim, but they are hesitant about declaring drought as yet.
In Maharashtra, assembly elections are due later in the year, while Gujarat, which is probably heading towards one of the bad years, feels late rains will rescue the situation. The current grim situation in parts of central and western India has forced Gujarat, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh to take steps to improve drinking water supply and boost availability of fodder to save livestock.
Sowing area of kharif crops across the country so far this year is down by 43 per cent at 182.4 lakh hectares, as per the official data available with the Union Agriculture Ministry. Shortfall in acreage has been reported in all major crops like rice, pulses, coarse cereals, oilseeds and cotton, the data shows.     Oilseeds and pulses are worst-hit crops which could increase India's import bill and prices. A huge drop in area under coarse cereals so far has also raised concerns about fodder availability and milk supply.
Union Agriculture Ministry expects sowing to pick up pace this week banking on the forecast of better rains, but expressed concerns about possibility of acreage lagging behind in central India with little window left for sowing of key crops now.
When asked if the country is facing drought threat, Union Agriculture Commissioner J.S. Sandhu said: "None of the states has reported a drought-like situation. They are keeping a watch on the progress of monsoon."

Stating that monsoon has touched all states without fully covering them, he said clarity on kharif acreage would be known by middle of July. He, however, said: "Looking at rainfall situation in Central India, there may not be sufficient area coverage."

The situation is still not alarming in the country as a whole, with Met Department projecting better rains during July and August, he added.
The picture appears to be bad in Maharashtra as it faces acute drinking water and power shortages, forcing Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to appeal for conservation of water and electricity.
"Water scarcity is critical. Power generation has been affected very badly. I appeal to all citizens to save water and use electricity carefully," Chavan had said last week. Directives have been issued to authorities for deploying drinking water tankers by undertaking to pay for private tankers.
At present, water storage in state reservoirs is only 19 per cent. As a result, 1,464 tankers are supplying water to 1,359 villages and 3,317 hamlets, an official said. Kharif sowing in the state has been done in 8.43 lakh hectares till last week against total cultivable areas of 134.70 lakh hectares, as per the state official data.
Similarly in Gujarat, a drought-like situation cannot be ruled out because of severe deficit in monsoon rain. As a result, farmers have been able to sow only in 12.8 lakh hectares against the cultivable area of 86.8 lakh hectare. Facing huge water scarcity, Gujarat is also supplying drinking water via pipelines and water tankers in 203 villages declared scarcity-hit. "The Gujarat government has been providing drinking water in the regions, where the problem of scarcity is prevailing, by many ways like pipelines and water tankers," State Relief Commissioner D N Pandey said.
Kutch and Saurashtra regions are the worst-affected as water levels are very low in dams there, as per state data. State Health Minister Nitin Patel, who is also the government spokesperson, said: "This year, rainfall is delayed. But we cannot call it a drought-like situation."
In Madhya Pradesh, a top producer of soyabean, farmers have been able to plant kharif crops only in 10 per cent of the total area so far. The state government has announced Rs.40 crore under a farm scheme to minimise the impact of deficient rains and is ready to sanction more, if needed. Rajesh Rajorai, Principal Secretary, Agriculture, Madhya Pradesh government, said deficient rains have affected soyabean, rice and maize. "Among the three, soyabean is the most vulnerable due to delayed monsoon."
In Rajasthan, rain deficit is 67 per cent in eastern parts and 52 per cent in western parts of the state. Sowing has covered only 10 per cent of the total targeted 156 lakh hectares, as per the state official data. "Aberrant monsoon is not a new problem for this dessert state and such a situation might occur this year also. But we are ready and the Department has made proper arrangements in advance to minimise the impact," State Agriculture Minister Prabhu Lal Saini said.
 He said rainfall deficit is not "alarming" as of now and sowing can be done till July 15. The state government said it will demand additional funds from the Centre to tide over the possible drought.
In Punjab and Haryana, which are largely irrigated, sowing of kharif crops is marginally lower than last year. The two states are, however, worried about an increase in farmers' input cost due to additional spending on diesel and power for irrigation to save standing crops. Punjab and Haryana have also demanded a central package of Rs.2,300 crore and Rs.800 crore, respectively to help farmers.
With paddy sowing in these two states so far being marginally lower than last year's, farmers have been advised to grow varieties that are early maturing and drought- tolerant. They have also been asked to explore alternative crops like bajra and pulses.
Odisha, one of the major rice producers, has decided to implement the Agriculture Insurance Scheme during the ongoing kharif season (June-September) amid possibility of poor monsoon affecting crop production and hitting farmers' income. The state Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has asked his officials to prepare an emergency plan and keep a reserve of drinking water.
In Chhattisgarh, kharif crops have been planted in 40 per cent of the total targeted area so far as the state has received only one-thirds of rainfall so far compared to the previous year.
Like Odisha, the state government has also launched a weather-based crop insurance scheme for the current kharif season in all districts. Farmers are being advised through mobile SMSes on the contingency plans. The state Agriculture Department, however, is anticipating heavy rains in second week of this month and said it would be too early to predict the impact of delayed monsoon on crop production.
In Uttar Pradesh, Chief Secretary Alok Ranjan has directed district magistrates to ensure effective implementation of a drought action plan. In West Bengal, jute cultivation suffered due to heat spell in April-May and the delay in rains.
The state has not yet announced a drought-like condition though such a situation prevailed "temporarily" during the April-May period of this year in South Bengal districts following excessive heat spell, said Swapan Kumar Mukhopadhyay, Joint Director - State Agriculture Department.
Rains were deficient till a few days back in South Bengal districts but the situation has improved now, he added. In the case of Arunachal Pradesh, a drought-like situation is looming large in several districts of the state. The rainfall deficit is about 25 per cent so far.
State Agriculture Department Joint Director Nini Pertin said: "Over 40-50 per cent of total cultivable land will be affected if a drought-like situation will occur. This will affect mainly kharif crops like paddy and maize." Only six per cent of the state's cultivable land has access to irrigation facility. Farmers have raised an alarm over the deficit rainfall situation and exhorted the state government to take emergency measures.
Among the southern states, the most affected is Karnataka where about 19.4 lakh hectares of land has been hit by drought-like conditions. State Agriculture Commissioner Subodh Yadav said the government will wait till July 10 for revival in monsoon and after that it will implement the contingency plan. There was a long dry spell in June and if the situation continues, there will be a problem, he added.
In Kerala, which is not a major producing state, the rainfall deficit has been to the tune of 31 per cent so far and has hit power generation badly. Kerala State Electricity Minister Aryadan Mohammad said: "If the situation continues, the state would be heading towards a power crisis." On the agriculture front in the state, paddy production will be hit by poor monsoon.
In Tamil Nadu, rainfall so far is normal, but Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa has announced a Rs.32.95-crore special package for farmers in the Cauvery delta region.
The package includes 12 hours of uninterrupted power supply for agriculture and community nurseries. A senior Met official in the state said: "It is too early to say if Tamil Nadu will face a drought situation this year." The sowing activity will pick up in full swing only after July 17 in the state.
In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, rainfall deficit is around 60 per cent so far. State governments have drawn up contingency plans to save crops.
Crops like paddy, jowar, bajra and groundnut have been sown in less than 25 per cent of the normal area. Southwest monsoon is crucial as almost 60 per cent of the cultivable land is rain-fed in India. The country had faced drought way back in 2002, 2009 and 2012.
The country produces 120-130 million tonnes of foodgrains during the kharif (summer) season every year, while similar quantity is harvested in the rabi (winter) season.

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