It said that there are 96 percent chances that the rainfall this year would be normal to excess. Releasing its second long-range forecast, the IMD said that north-west India will receive 108 percent rainfall of the Long Period Average while central India and southern peninsula will receive 113 percent of LPA.
To the uninitiated, rainfall between 104-110 percent of LPA is considered “above normal” monsoon and anything beyond 110 percent is considered “excess”. Nearly two-thirds of India’s farms are irrigated only by rain. Even though the farm sector accounts for about 15 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), approximately half of India’s population directly depends on agriculture.
Due to the poor monsoon in 2015-16 crop year (July-June), 10 states have declared a drought and the Centre has sanctioned about Rs 10,000 crore by way of relief to help the farmers. Two consecutive years of deficient rainfall and severe drought has resulted in acute rural distress in more than 250 districts across 11 states.
In the apex court, the Centre had claimed that approximately 33.6 crore people have been affected by the drought. However, experts contend that the figure released by the Centre is not accurate. An accurate count raises it to more than 50 crores. Besides a deficient monsoon and drought, changing rainfall pattern due to climate change has added to the crisis. In its recent study, industry lobby group, ASSOCHAM, said that the drought may have cost the country approximately Rs 6.5 trillion.
Besides bringing succour to the farm sector, a normal or “above average” monsoon will replenish reservoirs and mitigate the acute water shortage prevalent in vast swathes of the country. According to the Central Water Commission’s latest report on May 26, the total water available in 91 reservoirs in the country was 26.816 billion cubic meters (BCM). This is 17 percent of the total live storage capacity of these reservoirs and 79 percent of average availability during last 10 years.
“However, last year the live storage available in these reservoirs for the corresponding period was 49.119 BCM and the average of last 10 years live storage was 33.764 BCM,” according to the report published on CWC’s website. “Thus, the live storage available in 91 reservoirs as per May 26 bulletin is 55 percent of the live storage of corresponding period of last year and 79 percent of storage of average of last ten years.”
In other words, the volume of water stored has been rapidly declining in recent months. What’s worse, according to the US-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), India’s water tables are dropping at the rate of 0.3 metre a year. Adding to the problem of scarcity, government agencies estimate that approximately 80 percent of India’s surface water is contaminated and most of it come from untreated sewage that our cities release.
Food production in India is also heavily dependent on a healthy monsoon. More than 40 percent of its food production depends on adequate and timely showers. “The southwest monsoon that ends in September accounts for 80 percent of the annual rainfall,” according to a report in Scroll.in. “A good harvest in autumn, thus, strengthens rural consumption, providing a boost to the overall economy.” But that again depends on not only the volume of rain but also the timing. At the start of 2013, many states witnessed large-scale crop damage due to unseasonal rainfall in the Rabi season.
It was soon followed by the destruction of Kharif crops due to extreme weather conditions. The following two years witnessed a similar pattern of unseasonal rainfall and drought. Unfortunately, both the Centre and many state governments woke up to this reality months after the previous monsoon season.
It is not as if the warning signs of the current distress in rural India weren’t apparent earlier. In a country that has been affected by back-to-back droughts, it is amazing that governments did not plan in advance to deal with drought more than 10 years after the Disaster Management Act came into force. During court proceedings, the Centre admitted to not fulfilling many of its statutory obligations. Nonetheless, a healthy monsoon this season does not mean that governments will not face similar challenges. The vagaries of weather could still wreak havoc.