Rains 21% below normal; experts still hopeful

Rains 21% below normal; experts still hopeful

New Delhi: India’s monsoon rains, vital to the trillion-dollar economy, were 21% below normal in the week to 23 June, the Meteorological Department said, reflecting slow progress since the season began in June.

Weather officials and farm experts said poor rains were not yet alarming, as the monsoon was expected to revive in the next three days, helping farmers plant crops such as rice, cane, and oilseeds on a large area.

Good monsoon rains in 2010 will be crucial to offset last year’s fall in farm output after the worst drought in nearly four decades hit rice, cane and oilseeds. The four-month-long rains must revive in July to avoid the risk of farm output being hit.

The government, battling high inflation, heavily depends on normal monsoon rains to ease high food prices.

The weather office said countrywide rainfall was 32.8mm during the week against a normal 41.6mm, the Met office said, adding the seasonal rains were at 97.4mm, 11.1% below normal between 1 June and 23 June.

India’s food price index rose 16.90% in the year to 12 June, higher than the previous week’s annual reading of 16.12%, government data released on Thursday showed.

A government panel will meet on Friday to decide on raising domestic fuel prices, a move that may further stoke inflation and spark off protests from the opposition.

Weather officials still hope rains would improve.

“Monsoon will revive in the next three days in the eastern and central parts of the country," said B P Yadav, spokesman of the state-run weather office, told Reuters.

Other weather officials said rains had been well-distributed.

“Deficiency does not mean a bad distribution," said an official of the weather office’s agromet division, allying fears of a possibility of monsoon’s failure.

Data from the weather office shows that out of about 20 droughts since 1901, 17 were followed by near-normal rainfall. The weather office will issue its formal monsoon forecast in the second half of April.

The monsoon has already entered the rice, cane, cotton, oilseed growing south-western region of India, and reached the soybean-growing areas of central India.

It has not yet reached northern Uttar Pradesh, the top cane-producing state of the country.