Looking beyond the monsoon
The Indian Meteorological Department on Tuesday predicted above-normal to excess rainfall in the 2016 monsoon. IMD chief LS Rathore said the distribution of the monsoon should be fair across the country, but the Northeast and Southeast regions may receive slightly less rain. Rathore added that the drought-affected Marathwada region in Maharashtra is likely to receive good rainfall. The IMD predicted that weather conditions indicate a 30 percent possibility of a normal monsoon this year. In June, the Met Department will issue another detailed forecast, charting out predictions for monthly rainfall as well as seasonal rainfall across the country. Predictions by the IMD, however, do not mean it will be all hunky-dory for the states affected by drought in the past year. Only last month, ready-to-harvest Rabi crops were reportedly damaged due to unseasonal rainfall coupled with strong winds and hailstorm in eight states across north and central India. Thousand of standing crops across Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra were destroyed. Regions most affected by the crop damage were the Vidarbha and Marathwada areas of Maharashtra, western UP, eastern Rajasthan, Punjab, and Haryana. Among others, there are three key elements to the current agrarian crisis—weather forecasting, crop insurance, and irrigation systems. In response to the growing agrarian crisis, the Centre, earlier this year, approved a new crop insurance scheme for farmers that will replace two existing agricultural insurance schemes. At the heart of the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bhima Yojana lies the promise of lower premiums and early claim settlements. Another key element to the crop insurance is the use of high-resolution imagery gathered through drones to arrive at crop damage figures. Despite the use of technology, experts are also of the opinion that early claim settlements can only be addressed after basic structural changes are introduced to the process of crop damage assessment. On the question of irrigation systems, it is important to understand a few facts. The July-September monsoon accounts for about 80 percent of India’s total rainfall and affects both summer and winter sowing and approximately 2/3rd cultivated land in India is dependent on monsoons, leaving it susceptible to the vagaries of weather. In response, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently announced that the Centre would spend Rs 86,500 crore—quadrupling annual spending—over the next five years to irrigate 80 million hectares of cultivated land. But according to a recent IndiaSpend analysis, Finance Minister Jaitley is wasting the government’s money by spending such a sum on the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP), which has yielded below par results. According to the 2015-16 Economic Survey, of the irrigation capacity created by the AIBP during 2007-11, only a third of farmland actually got water.Suffice to say, the crisis afflicting India’s agrarian sector is immense and a good monsoon will not resolve it.