New Delhi: After weeks of bad news, India’s ruling United Progressive Alliance, or UPA, finally has something to cheer about after the country’s weather department announced on Monday that this year’s monsoon would be normal.
In April, the India Meteorological Department, or IMD, had said the south-west monsoon, which occurs between the months of June and September, would achieve 99% of its long period average, or LPA, this year. LPA is essentially a 50-year mean of rainfall received.
July and August are the most crucial months of the annual south-west monsoon, which in its four-month sweep across the country brings in more than 80% of the annual rainfall. Agriculture in most parts of the country, except for Punjab and Haryana, is rainfed.
The department also said that all four parts of the country would receive adequate rainfall in this period.
IMD’s Monday update bodes well for the kharif, or monsoon crop, in India.
In recent weeks, the government has seen its stock plummet after inflation rose to a 13-year high.
Oil prices that are at a historic high and political uncertainty arising from a stand-off between the Congress-led UPA and its key ally, the Left Front, over the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal—which the government wants to push ahead with—have taken their toll on both the stock market and popular sentiment.
A poor monsoon could have resulted in lower agricultural productivity this year and contributed to a further increase in food prices.
“Rains are the backbone of India’s agriculture sector,” said Vijay Sethia, president of industry body All India Rice Exporters Association. “Food prices may begin to decline much earlier than most people expect,” he added. Soaring food prices are stoking inflation in India.
Costs of food products such as bread, salt, cooking oil and tea jumped 14% in the week to 14 June from a year earlier, according to the government.
Abundant rains also increase incomes among the 700 million Indians living in rural areas and spur demand for goods. Rainfall since 1 June has been 21% above LPA, which is the mean rainfall between 1941 and 1990.
Monday’s review and forecast are part of an annual routine where IMD forcasts the effectiveness of the monsoon across India over the four months. This year’s forecast said rainfall over north-west India would be 96% of LPA; that in north-east and central India, 101% of LPA; and that in the southern peninsula, 98% of LPA.
Last year, IMD’s June forecast got most things wrong.
For instance, the southern peninsula got 25% more rain than it usually does, even though IMD predicted it to be 6% less than normal.
The department’s predictions for the other three regions too were off the mark, but within the 16% error range of the mathematical model used for the forecast.
Between June and September, 2007, India received 106% of its LPA although IMD had predicted it would receive 93% with an error range of 8%. However, IMD chief Ajith Tyagi said the department was confident that its models were accurate.
“We wouldn’t issue a forecast if we weren’t. However, there’s always a chance of an unexpected weather phenomenon, which our models can’t capture. There’s nothing we can do about it,” he added.
Ramesh Chand, an economist at the National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy said that while such “geographical updates are okay”, it was more important for the department “to predict how the rainfall distributes over time. A dry spell for a while, affects farmers’ cropping judgement, rather than the total amount of rainfall in a month.”
Tyagi said that there could be a “slight weakening” of the rainfall in July. “It’s not a break but some models forecast July to be less on the rainfall than normal,” he added. A break in monsoon is a dry spell of at least a week.
Last year, IMD moved to a new technique called ensemble forecasting that uses multiple local as well as international forecasting models, assigns different weights to each, and generates an aggregate forecast.
Bloomberg’s Thomas Kutty Abraham contributed to this story.