South West Monsoon's tardy progress triggers worry

By: Sreekumar Narayan
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Farmers across the country have been looking skywards for the past few weeks but the rain god does not seem to be in a benevolent mood. Unfortunately, a billion prayers have not been answered so far.

Farmer Dry Land

First there was a slight delay in the arrival of South West Monsoon and even when showers fell, their deficiency became the talk of the town. It prompted Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's comment: "You know something is seriously wrong when we join the Brits in talking about the weather."

He might take a flippant view of the discussions but the undeniable truth is the annual rains are vital for the nation. India is able to produce large quantities of wheat and rice, staple diet of the masses, thanks to the rain that falls between June and September.

Without the same, cultivators of other important crops like sugar, cotton, soyabean and groundnut will be left hapless too. And that is exactly the situation at present. Several states have recorded low rainfall.

"The monsoon is covering the entire country today with parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan (states) receiving heavy rains," India's chief meteorologist LS Rathore informed mediapersons on Jul 11. He admitted that "It is still minus 23 per cent (of the normal rainfall average)".

His subsequent statement that the precipitation shortfall was likely to "continue until next week" may have been meant to be reassuring, but it cannot be taken as the gospel truth.

After all, the meteorological department was claiming for weeks that the monsoon will be normal this time. Only when statistics suggested that the confidence was misplaced did they revisit their initial assessment.

Let us hope that 2012 is not a repeat of 2009. Three years ago, the same department predicted sufficient rain. What the country actually endured was a debilitating drought that drove thousands of farmers to suicide.

No wonder Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is sounding cautious. Though he observed that the "rainfall situation is definitely improving", he simultaneously acknowledged that cereal production in Karnataka and Maharashtara could be impacted by the uneven spread of the rainfall.

"There is a cause for concern about coarse cereal production and drinking water supply in these two states," Pawar said. That he did not hesitate to express his fears is noteworthy.

Circumstances are such that it does not make sense to hide worrisome facts from the public. A major portion of the country's Gross Domestic Product is contributed by agriculture. If the monsoon fails, the consequences will be grave. For one, inflation will soar further and there will be a shortage of essential commodities.

The states which are dependent on hydel power will be forced to look at alternative sources of energy. In Kerala, there is already talk of load shedding in the months to come.

Bangalore has hardly received any rain this year. Resultant water scarcity in the summer of 2013 cannot be ruled out. The residents of most places where the precipitation has been meagre till date face a similarly uncertain future.

The onus is now on the central and state governments. If they do not start preparing for the worst-case scenario, millions of people are undoubtedly going to suffer.

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