Despite the Government’s confidence, the unfolding of the monsoon this year could be grimmer than in 2009. Three years ago, the country went through its third most deficient monsoon after 1918 and 1972.

Many parallels are drawn to the situation in 2009, when monsoon was 47.3 per cent below normal, to show that this year could be better.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) data shows that June rainfall in 2009 was the lowest since 1926, when it was 48.3 per cent below normal. Monsoon has had worse starts in June in 1962, 1965, 1972 and 2002.

Other worrisome factors

But there are other worrisome factors that are emerging. Though monsoon was deficient in June 2009, it made up in July, cutting the deficit to 4.3 per cent of the long period average (LPA). Then by July-end, the country received 405 cm rainfall against the normal 428 cm.

This June-end, the monsoon was 30 per cent deficient. Up to July 25, it was 22 per cent lower than the LPA.

In 2009, when monsoon set in early on May 23, seven of the 36 meteorological subdivisions had received excess rainfall until July-end. This year, only one subdivision, Meghalaya, has received excess rainfall.

Rainfall deficit

The problem this year is that rainfall deficit in Punjab is 66 per cent (versus 34 in 2009). In Haryana, it is 70 per cent deficient (35) and in western Uttar Pradesh, 55 per cent (43). These form the crucial north-western parts of the country where rice is the major crop.

In terms of coverage in the country, only one-third part of the country has received normal rainfall this year, whereas in 2009 more areas had received normal rainfall. However, it must be noted that the IMD declares a region to be deficient in rainfall only if it receives 20 per cent lower than the LPA.

In Gujarat, where Kutch and Saurashtra regions received excess rainfall in 2009, as also in western Rajasthan the rains have been scanty this year. The entire western flank, barring Goa, has received deficient rainfall. These are key areas for coarse cereals, cotton, pulses and sugarcane.

In 2009, the Marathwada region, south and north interior Karnataka received excess rainfall.

Winter showers

Only winter showers have been better this year compared with 2009. During January-February, rainfall was five per cent deficient compared with 46 per cent in 2009. It resulted in the storage level being higher this year during the onset of monsoon. Since then things have changed.

In 2009, by June-end, the storage level in the 84 major reservoirs had dropped to 9 per cent of the full reservoir level before rising to 27 per cent by July-end.

This year, the storage level was 20 per cent at the start of June but then dropped to the lowest in 10 years (16 per cent) in the first week of July. Currently, the storage level is 19 per cent of the capacity.

Comparable sowing figures are also different.

The acreage under rice so far this year is 191.06 lakh hectares (lh) compared with 191.30 lh in 2009. Coarse cereals acreage is 117.48 lh against 159.56 lh then and pulses coverage is also lower at 62.99 lh (73.58 lh).

A perusal of foodgrains-growing regions shows that over 50 per cent of the area under cereals is rain-deficient. In 2009, rice production took a hit in the country due to lower rainfall during June and August.

Similarly, oilseed sowing is down at 138.33 lh (141.79 lh) this year, though the area under sugarcane and cotton is higher.

With prices of agricultural produce already up about 10 per cent since the start of this month, inflation could surge if monsoon doesn’t make up in the next two months.

In 2009, food inflation that was in single digit till June touched a high of 19.95 per cent in December. Also, what could push prices is the higher minimum support price (MSP) fixed by the Centre for Kharif crops this year.

The MSP has been raised between 18 and 37 per cent for various crops this year, thus raising a spectre of inflation. This could also mean higher expenses for the common man.

The other worry for the Government could be agricultural labour force being rendered jobless in case the situation worsens. In 2009, monsoon withdrew late by pouring aplenty throughout the country. That could be a saving grace if that happens this year, though meteorologists are pointing out to the emerging warm weather effect of El Nino.

subramani.mancombu@thehindu.co.in

(This article was published on July 27, 2012)
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