New Delhi: The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has finally indicated, as much as its officialese permits, that this year will be a drought. Rainfall in August and September will be “below normal”, or 91% of the 43cm that these months get totally. Add that to the actual rainfall received as of now of 37cm, and the overall deficiency between June and September will be about 15%, the second biggest rainfall deficiency India has seen in the last decade.
“Based on the rainfall distribution over the country till date and the outlook for the second half of the season, the seasonal rainfall of the entire south-west monsoon season (June-September) is likely to be deficient (less than 90% of the long-period average),” the department said in a press statement released late on Thursday.
Already, deficient rains in July have wreaked havoc on the summer sowing season, and have raised the threat of further inflation in food prices. On 31 July, the government announced a package of around Rs 2,000 crore for the five worst-affected states—Maharashtra, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujarat.
The drought comes at a time when India’s economy is slowing. On Tuesday, the Reserve Bank of India revised its estimate of economic growth in 2012-13 to 6.5% from the earlier 7.3%. It also revised its estimate for year-end inflation to 7% from 6.5%. Retail inflation, measured using the Consumer Price Index, was 10.02% in June, marginally lower from 10.36% in May.
Top IMD officials, however, refrained from terming the current situation a “drought”. IMD director general L.S. Rathore said rainfall will be deficient, but that he couldn’t call it a drought. “There are different kinds of drought— meteorological, hydrological, etc.—and all our definitions of drought are defined for smaller subdivisions at the district level. There’s no real definition at an all-India level,” he said.
Still, Rathore admitted that the rainfall deficiency was not normal. “Usually, central India faces a shortfall for such a weak rainfall. This time, central India is fine, and it’s a north and south India deficiency. It’s not unusual, but very rare,” he added.
An agricultural drought takes place when more than 20% of the country faces a rainfall deficit of between 26% and 50% and rain during the south-west monsoon is less than 90% of normal.
Thus, 2002 and 2009 were agricultural droughts, but 2004, which saw a deficiency of 13%, was not counted as a drought year.
Other officials said that though rainfall had picked up over most of India in the last few days, the El Nino phenomenon as well as temperatures in the Indian Ocean were expected to be unhelpful for the monsoon from mid- and late-August. “El Nino is the biggest factor for low August and September rains,” said D. Sivananda Pai, chief forecaster at IMD.
El Nino is a phenomenon arising in the Pacific Ocean where higher surface temperatures affect usual weather patterns in many parts of the world, including India.
India began August with a rainfall deficiency of 19%. While that’s better than July, which it began with a 29% shortfall, the agriculture department has already moved into drought-relief mode.
A weather expert, who didn’t want to be identified, said IMD was loath to call a drought a drought. “There are political compulsions to not call it a drought. It doesn’t make sense given that the reality is out there and IMD publicizes the deficiency numbers, but that’s how the department is,” the person said.
As of 26 July, the total area under kharif cultivation stood at 66.824 million hectares, down 9.94% from 74.2 million hectares in the same period last year, with all crops except sugar cane showing varying degrees of decline from last year, government data showed last Friday.
The area under rice, the most important crop, showed an 8.72% decline from last year, while the area under coarse cereals fell 22.65%. The area under pulses was down 17.8%, while that under oilseeds showed a fall of 1.1% from a year ago.
Water availability in dams is only marginally better from the week before. As of data available on Thursday, the total live storage in 84 important reservoirs in different parts of the country, monitored by the Central Water Commission, was only 30% of its full capacity. That’s one-third less than what it was last year and four-fifths of the average of the last 10 years.