New Delhi: India is scrambling to divert power supplies to the countryside to irrigate rice and oilseed crops and limit damage after the worst start to the vital monsoon season in eight decades has raised fears of a drought.
The shift threatens to worsen the summer power deficit that has plagued India for decades, particularly with the country’s hydropower plants running below 40% of capacity as scanty rains have depleted reservoirs.
Union power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde is worried about the shortfall in monsoon rains as hydropower accounts for one quarter of India’s total power generation of 149,400 megawatts.
He said the government had ensured higher supply of electricity to Punjab and Haryana states, the key grain producing regions, to help irrigation.
“They have the water but they don’t have the power,” Shinde said, adding that India already faced a power shortage of 15,000-20,000 megawatts.
Union agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar, said on Monday that monsoon rains were expected to improve this week, while the latest weather office bulletin forecasts heavy rains only in coastal areas of southern India and parts of central India.
In the farm sector, which provides livelihoods to two-thirds of India’s 1.1 billion people, weak monsoons would hit the oilseed crop and could force India to import a record amount of edible oils in the crop year to October.
In central India, the output of the soybean crop may fall, potentially hitting oilmeal exports from Asia’s top meal exporter, traders said.
The government has already shown signs of panic, stopping wheat exports 10 days after it lifted a two-year ban on shipments this month.
So far, the government has declared four districts in the central Indian state of Jharkhand and the northeastern state of Manipur as drought-hit but these states are not key grain producers.
But sowing of rice, groundnut and soybeans has been delayed in most parts of northern and central India, minister of state for agriculture KV Thomas told Parliament on Tuesday.
Industry officials are also worried about the fall in domestic oilseed production in India, the world’s top vegetable oils importer after China.
“The erratic monsoon and likely lower summer-sown oilseeds crop will further push imports in September and October months and overall imports are likely to be about 8.0 million tonnes,” the Solvent Extractors Association said in a statement.
India’s monsoon rains were 46% below normal in the month of June, while in the first week of July, rainfall was 29% below normal, according to the Indian Meteorological Department.
India depends heavily on monsoon rains as only 40% of its farmland has access to irrigation facilities.